De Vos: Raising our voices (column)
April 20, 2017
Tomorrow is a day that will live on in irony.
It's Earth Day, April 22, as it has been since 1970 when 20 million people gathered on streets across America, demanding that their government act to protect the earth. It was perhaps the largest gathering of like-minded individuals before or since. People across the political spectrum had grown weary of fighting foreign wars, tired of ballooning defense budgets that took money and focus away from domestic problems like hunger, homelessness and the aging infrastructures of our communities.
The demonstration shook Congress into some of the most important environmental protections ever passed: the Clean Water Acts, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Federal Pesticides Act, the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Education Act, the National Hiking Trails and the National Scenic Trails Acts, and the establishment of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Before lizard-brains took over Congress, our political leaders understood that economic prosperity could be achieved alongside environmental protection, Operation Mainstream, widely supported across both aisles, appropriated millions to create conservation jobs and provide skills training for transitioning veterans, the poor and the elderly.
The current thinking seems to be that this generation of billionaires is superior to all others, past and future. They've anointed themselves the grandest people, ever-deserving of their inheritances while devouring the earth in mindless accumulation.
Kluane Lake is the largest lake in Alaska's Yukon Territory. It's fed by Slims River which in turn comes from the Kaskawulsh Glacier. Slims River is torrential, at times 100 feet across and 10 feet deep, running like this for millennia. That is, until last year when melting glaciers shifted and stunned scientists by drying up Slims River and emptying Kluane Lake in a matter of days. Impacts from global warming are speeding up and may surprise us in ways we're not prepared for.
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Gaylord Nelson was a Wisconsin senator and the founder of Earth Day. He tried to build a coalition among his fellow congressmen to address environmental concerns. When that failed, Nelson turned to the people who took to the streets, demanding action.
Nelson took a wide view of the problem saying, "Environment is all of America and its problems. It is rats in the ghetto. It is a hungry child in a land of affluence. It is housing not worthy of the name; neighborhoods not fit to inhabit."
The Earth Day demonstrations led directly to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and tomorrow as we note the 47th anniversary the current administration seemingly has given up on the future, dismantling the EPA as if content to let wealthy donors grab what they can as the world lurches from twitter to tweet in the course of the morning.
The irony of tomorrow is the complacency of today. The rules have changed and are changing still. One side-effect of the proposed health plan was that it heavily favored the wealthy at the expense of old and poor people. The biggest impact of the new budget would be to cut services to the old and poor to make room for tax cuts at the top. The new environmental rollbacks are designed to suck our children's future into today's offshore tax shelters.
Let's hope we never wake up to a world where 20 million voices aren't enough.