'Earth Day' - A Rebuttal
By Ann Drumm, KERA 90.1 commentator
Dallas, TX – In a May 14 KERA commentary, Sterling Burnett praised the media for downplaying Earth Day. He suggested that progress on the environmental front is ignored by environmental organizations because news of such progress doesn't suit their political and fundraising needs. This is an insult to environmental advocates and misrepresents the motives of those who work to preserve our natural resources for the benefit of future generations.
We did make a lot of progress in cleaning up the environment in the 30 years after the first Earth Day, but environmental progress started making a U-turn with the inauguration of the Bush Administration. Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, describes in his new book the Bush Administration's unprecedented efforts to dismantle environmental protections put in place during prior administrations of both parties. Even concerned Republicans express dismay at this administration's regressive environmental policies.
Yes, cars have gotten cleaner. But the progress made in fuel efficiency after the OPEC embargo in 1973 was largely reversed when oil prices fell in the 1980's and Americans embraced large, inefficient vehicles. There are more cars and trucks on the road today, and they will remain a significant source of local air pollution until more fuel-efficient engines dominate our auto fleet. The good news is that three SUV's with hybrid engines are expected to be on the market within the next year.
Most Americans may have access to clean drinking water, but deteriorating water infrastructure, pollution from storm water mixing with sewage, and contaminated runoff are causing water waste and serious water pollution. As a consequence of the weakening of clean water standards, rising national water pollution levels were reported in 2003 for the first time since passage of the Clean Water Act.
Technological improvements have helped reduce pollution from manufacturing, but there still is room for enormous gains in resource and energy efficiency. Those improvements don't address the toxic legacy of manufacturing's past. Superfund has been weakened so much that our progress in reducing the nation's backlog of hazardous waste sites has screeched to a halt.
We still haven't made significant progress in addressing the environmental challenge of our generation: global warming and the need for a renewable energy economy. It's ironic that Sterling Burnett's essay praising the media for downplaying environmental issues ran during an NPR series on global warming. Tony Blair has committed Britain to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions far greater than those required by the Kyoto Protocol. The debate on this topic is still in its infancy here in the U.S.
Our job won't be done until we have a truly sustainable economy that doesn't jeopardize the well being of future generations, and we owe it to our children to continue educating our citizens about this reality. Yes, we have made progress, but we can't lose sight of the goal or be lulled into thinking that we're almost there.
Ann Drumm chairs the Dallas Sierra Club. If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.