I’ve always had a warm and fuzzy spot for Earth Day.
In the 47 years since it was created to focus America’s attention on the environment, it’s grown into a kind of secular world holiday.
Its observance on April 22 has become a rallying cry to stop extinctions, reduce pollution, and advocate for wind and solar energy. It’s an occasion to plant trees and beach grass, take hikes and bird walks, and clean up rivers, parks and beaches.
And Earth Day has had its triumphs. It helped give birth to the Environmental Protection Agency and critical federal legislation on clean air, clean water and endangered species, and has increased public awareness of environmental threats. We recycle more, pollute less, put solar panels on our roofs, and make and buy hybrid cars. And overall the economy was not hurt along the way.
But it hasn’t been enough. If the intervening years have made a case for anything, it’s that every year needs to consist of 365 Earth Days. A one-day-a-year focus from the world at large is not enough to protect the planet that’s our home.
On this Earth Day weekend, the catalog of ills is depressing.
Coral reefs are suffering severe damage everywhere, an estimated 300 billion tiny pieces of plastic float in Arctic waters and 3.5 million people worldwide die prematurely each year from air pollution.
Disease-bearing insects migrate as the globe warms, like the Zika-carrying mosquitoes that are moving north. Forests from New England to Southern California to Long Island are being devastated by bugs and diseases brought by global trade or global warming, often exacerbated by drought. We’ve all seen more intense and frequent storms, floods, wildfires and heat waves.
And now comes Donald Trump.
Dow Chemical, whose chief executive is a Trump adviser, wants the White House to ignore years of scientific evidence and scrap regulations that ban a family of pesticides harmful to 1,800 species that are endangered or critically threatened. This comes after EPA head Scott Pruitt ended an Obama-era effort to ban chlorpyrifos, another Dow pesticide, after studies showed it can cause neurological problems in fetuses and children.
An EPA spokesman said the agency is “trying to restore regulatory sanity to EPA’s work.” So sanity apparently now includes allowing farmers to use a chemical that can damage children’s brains.
Trump has signed executive orders that allow coal mining waste to be dumped into streams and relax emissions limits for power plants that poison the air.
Are we nuts?
The Earth is amazingly resilient. It has shown it can take a lot. But its fragile forms of life can’t survive forever the damage humans inflict. Just look around.
The most obvious threat is climate change. But that’s a political and ideological battleground.
OK, if you don’t think global warming is man-made or real, if you believe that all the data and evidence that have been assembled are being misinterpreted, that this is just a blip in the planet’s history or part of a natural cycle — fine.
But what if you’re wrong?
What’s the downside to doing something just in case? What’s the drawback to reducing emissions to slow the increase of Earth’s temperature? Cleaner air? Cleaner water? Healthier people? Seas that don’t rise as fast? Is there anything bad here? Don’t we want that anyway?
We all revere the Golden Rule. Let’s apply it consistently to the environment. If you don’t want something in your own home or in the air, water or ground around you, then don’t let it happen to someone else’s home, air, water or ground.
That’s not only for climate change. It’s for drought in Africa, deforestation in Brazil, species extinction everywhere, and dirty water right here on Long Island.
Earth Day was yesterday. And today. And tomorrow. And . . .
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.