Thursday, April 22

Overdosing On Climate Change: Earth Day

"Mister!" he said with a sawdusty sneeze. "I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. And I am asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs" — he was very upset as he shouted and puffed — "What's that THING you've made out of my Truffula tuft?"

For most people, Earth Day started some 40 years ago. For me, given I was only 3, it started a year later in 1971. 1971 was when was the year Random House published The Lorax by Dr. Suess. It was also the same year Iron Eyes Cody debuted as the "crying Indian" in the "Keep America Beautiful" public service announcement campaign. The messages matched the appetite of the populous.

There were lessons to be learned. We could all do our part. All of it was in our best interest.

Wisconsin was well ahead of the environmental bell curve too. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed Earth Day in 1969 and had intended it to raise environmental consciousness through rallies, symposiums, and discussions on college campuses and in cities across the country. His work had started much earlier as governor. Earth Day matched the sentiment of the state, especially because of its blended assets with forests and lakes to the north, farm and dairy land to the south, and industry to the east along Lake Michigan.

So what happened on the way to a greener planet in the last 40 years?

Geoff Livingston made an excellent observation about Earth Day yesterday. There isn't as much fanfare about Earth Day.

The answer might be found, in part, from another observation last year in the Washington Times. They compared Arbor Day and Earth Day to conclude that Arbor Day was largely non-political and positive where was Earth Day was political and pessimistic.

When did that happen? While the stage was already set, the shift in direction of our environmental conscience occurred in 2006 with the winds of climate change and global warming. The inconvenient truth was very much like a wild part of proof for all of us concerned about the environment, but it eventually came with one of the worst hangovers ever because some of the numbers were fudged.

That wasn't the worst of it. The inconvenient truth also took away the individual's ability to do their part and focused heavily on regulating others to do their part. The immediate impact of divide and conquer politics becomes clear enough. It shifts attention away from what "we" can do and onto what "they" can do. So "they" defend themselves while "we" forget to buy lower emission cars, recycle, and whatever. And overdosing on climate change for all its faults has made the problem bigger than any individual can fix.

Sure, I know for a fact that many manufacturers are willing to sit on emission controlling technologies (literally keeping them secret) to avoid sweeping regulations that occur at a faster pace than they can implement. But at the same time, most of those manufacturers are tied to defending their position because of pressures — price, profits, and employment — that those same regulating individuals benefit from. In other words, we're all in this together folks.

Messages make all the difference.

There have been a lot of clever and creative environmental messages since 1971, but few of them have become as iconic and legendary as the crying Indian or The Lorax. Ever wonder why?

The 1971 messages are stories that bind us together in the choices we make as individuals, with no distinction between producers and consumers or companies and people who litter. Both messages ask us to make a choice: which person do you want to be? The choice seems logical enough. Most of us want to be the solution instead of the problem.

Even the Lorax, though disgusted by the greed that came with the invention of the thneeds, left a last chance in the hands of the Once-ler, despite the Once-ler's responsibility for making the mess. The message, if you remember, is unless.

"No more trees. No more Thneeds. No more work to be done. So, in no time, my uncles and aunts, every one, all waved me good-bye. They jumped into my cars and drive away under the smoke-smuggered stars. Now all that was left 'neath the bad-smelling sky was my big empty factory ..."

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