Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Times They Are a-Changin'

How our lives in the US have changed since the first Earth Day!

There is less soot in the air. Cars are equipped with pollution control devices. Rivers no longer burn. We recycle now.

But let me say it again. How our lives in the US have changed since the first Earth Day!

In 1970, the population of the US was 203,302,031. On January 1, 2009, the population in the US was estimated to be 305,529,237.

In 1970, the average size of a single family home was 1,400 square feet, with 3.1 people in the average household. In 2007 it was 2,507 square feet for 2.6 people.

In 1970, there were approximately 170,000,000 registered automobiles in the world. In 2009, there were 246,000,000 registered in the US.

In 1970, we did not worry about the “perils of plastics,” a cover story in the most recent issue of Time. We did have Tupperware, but plastic had not hit the grocery stores. Most babies wore cloth diapers. Bags were made of paper.

Air travel was a luxury for people, let alone flowers or produce. I was nearly 19 when I flew home student stand-by on the shuttle from La Guardia to Logan for $15 (including tax), white knuckling it the entire way.

In 1970 there were no personal computers, cellphones, or I-Pods. We now have EnergyStar and more energy-efficient forms of lighting and appliances. But we have more appliances and ever-growing energy needs.

In 1986, the Canadian government recognized that the cod catch was declining but took no action. In 1990 the cod biomass survey was 400,000 tons; in 1994, 1,700 tons remained “in a fishery that had for over a century yielded a quarter-million ton catch.”

The American Bald Eagle recovered after DDT was banned. But there are currently 409 species of animals and 601 species of plants on the Endangered Species List; an additional 165 species of animals and 149 species of plants are threatened.

Decades ago we tackled the problem of “dirty air.” Particulate emissions are not so much of a problem now.  But in 1970, we were not yet aware of the growing hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica or the dangers of the now-banned CFCs.

Most scientists now acknowledge global warming. They say that 350 parts per million is the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere. And we are now at 390. We can watch icebergs breaking apart on YouTube.

Near the end of March it was reported that an uninhabited, 81 square mile island had vanished from satellite images. New Moore Island, claimed by both India and Bangladesh, has been reclaimed by the Bay of Bengal. Sugata Hazra, director of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India, warns that this type of event may become commonplace; five inhabited islands in this same region could vanish in the next 10 years. The U.N. predicts that low-lying Bangladesh could lose almost one-fifth of its territory and see 20 million citizens displaced by 2050 if, as expected, sea levels rise by 3.3 feet.
We need Earth Day now more than ever — one with the raw energy of that very first observance. But this time the day needs to be a global call to action, followed by a global environmental decade. The battle won’t be easy, but the Earth can’t wait.

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