Today is Earth Day. While I am old enough to remember the first Earth Day, I must confess that I don't. But I do remember some of the spectacularly polluted aspects of the 1970's, and I'm not talking about the Nixon administration.
When I was younger, rivers were so polluted that we wouldn't swim in them or eat fish out of them--and memorably, occasionally, rivers would burst into flames. Now, in the U.S., most waterways are relatively clean. Because of the changes sparked by that first Earth Day, now you can swim without too much fear. When I was a child, in major metropolitan areas in the U.S., you could see the air you were breathing. Now, you can't.
I worry that we're rolling back regulations and that we'll head back to those days. But I take great comfort in knowing that the planet can heal itself.
I wish I could stay that I spent this Earth Day week-end planting trees, but I didn't. We did spend part of yesterday morning plotting out the next phases of home repair. We're wrestling with the question of how much money to put into a house we no longer expect to live in for the rest of our lives. My spouse wants to live in a house that's closer to his idea of perfection than we've ever managed before--but should it be this house?
So, we wrestle with questions of whether or not we want to put in the finest wood floors or would something better than what we have now, but not as fabulous as what we could buy would suffice.
And this morning, I read an article in The Wall Street Journal with this sobering observation: "Another new paper, from researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Pennsylvania State University, shows that the trend in Miami is playing out across the country, with homes that are vulnerable to rising sea levels now selling at a 7% discount compared with similar but less-exposed properties. The paper, which is under peer review, shows that the size of the coastal discount has grown over time."
At times yesterday morning, I was struck by this snapshot of our current life: on our lovely front porch on our beautiful street discussing at what point rising waters will make it all untenable. I know that people who live inland and upland would think we're being overly dramatic, and oh, how I wish it could be true.
I told my spouse that I watch myself thinking about these issues. I know that psychologists tell us that humans are spectacularly bad at calculating risk and reward, particularly if it's not an immediate issue. I find myself engaging in wishful thinking: maybe the recent increase in the timeline of sea level rise will reverse itself. But my rational brain knows that the rate is likely to increase, not decrease.
But for today, let me delight in the flowers on my porch that look on as we plot possible futures. Let me trust that even as regulations are rolled back, we have time to save the planet, at least parts of it. Let me remember that first Earth Day that no one thought would accomplish anything--and let me remember the forces it set into motion.