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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Earth Day at 25 Years: Nothing New

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Michael Silverstein remarks on the disappointing lack of U.S. governmental leadership or innovative thinking on Earth Day this year.


CURWOOD: April 22nd, 1995: the 25th anniversary of Earth Day. And according to commentator Michael Silverstein, an equal opportunity moment of déjà vu for liberals and conservatives alike.

SILVERSTEIN: Has this Earth Day reminded you of Groundhog Day? In that popular movie, Bill Murray relived the same day in the same way, because he refused to change his jaundiced view of life. Public debate about the environment on Earth Day 1995 has had a similar repetitive and unevolved quality. A quarter of a century ago, our political establishment led the world when it came to environmental issues. Today, it trails the thinking both of the American public and the American business community in this realm.

Most Americans believe economic growth and environmental protection are compatible goals. Many of this country's largest corporations have come to the same conclusion. Only in official Washington do decades out of date environmental perspectives still flourish. Here, liberal ecobabble and conservative ecobashing still fill the air.

Considering this exotic Beltway brew, the Clinton Administration's use of Earth Day as a launching pad for its sustainable development initiative. The great promoters of sustainable development theory are central planners in the UN and World Bank bureaucracies: people with about as much popularity among Americans these days as deer ticks and property taxes. Who but Clinton and Gore could see in this idea and these institutions models for ecological salvation?

Conservative irrelevance this Earth Day has certainly been a match for its liberal counterpart. Attempts to paralyze enforcement of environmental regulations embodied in the Republican Contract with America show an amazing ignorance of historic links between environmental protection and economic growth. Twenty-five years ago was not only when the United States celebrated its first Earth Day. It was when ecologists and economists in the Soviet Union were warning their government that ecological systems had to be protected from massive emissions. The decades of regulation that began around 1970 destroyed the US economy? Of course not. Did failure to regulate undermine the public health, the natural ecology, and the economy of the old Soviet Union? Without question. Such realities, alas, find no place in the anti-regulation thinking of today's American conservatives.

A quarter of a century should have made this year's Earth Day a glorious celebration linking Gaia and Mammon, Rachel Carson and Adam Smith. Instead, we see Punxsatawney Phil in eco-drag, spooked by the shadows of Earth Days past. In consequence, you need not worry about sleeping through this Earth Day. By now hearing the rhetoric rising form the Potomac, you won't miss a thing you haven't heard over and over and over and over...

CURWOOD: Michael Silverstein comes to us from WHYY in Philadelphia. His latest book is called The Environmental Economic Revolution.



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