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It’s Earth Day 2009; wake up, people!


I can’t think of much to say about Earth Day. It’s all been said before and is being and will be said again and again. This picture pretty well sums it all up for me. Our beautiful blue marble, the tiniest of dots in an indescribably large universe. This is our home, the only place we know of that can support us. If we mess it up, there’s no place else to go. It’s a complete, beautifully balanced ecosystem, with enough land and water and sun and air to sustain us all. And it is finite. We must take care of it; it’s all we have.

Many of you perhaps think as my son does. “Mom,” he’ll say, “get real. Al Gore is an alarmist. He lied with his figures. Global warming is a natural, cyclical occurrence that’s happened before and will happen again. This whole global warming thing is a crock of sh*t.”

Still, he is talking about it. And he’s sorting and recycling his trash. And he’s got some CFL bulbs in his home. He wasn’t doing any of that ten years ago. So we are making progress, very slowly, a step at a time. There is so much more awareness and concern and action than there was in the ’60s when hippies were pushing daisies into rifle barrels. But not that much, considering 50 years have passed since then.

To me it doesn’t really matter if the earth is currently warming naturally or as a result of man’s destruction of the environment. If the ice caps melt, the oceans rise, and the world’s coastal cities are flooded, the loss will be the same regardless of the cause. There’s nothing we can do to change earth’s natural cycles, but we sure as hell can stop making them any worse.

Perhaps it takes the perspective of decades to appreciate fully what we are doing to our environment. I have a few decades under my belt, and I’ve dug up a few photos to show you what I’ve noticed in my lifetime.

I’ve been coming to Denver and northern Colorado for vacations for more than 60 years (didn’t move here till 2005) and the one thing that always stood out besides the mountains themselves was the crystalline air.

As we drove into Colorado, it was always a contest to see who in the car would spot the mountains first. In the early days we came up through the Oklahoma panhandle and I don’t remember exact locations. But in later years we came across I-70 from Kansas and “the” spot was near Genoa, Colorado, a tiny little dot on the map way out toward the Kansas border. In that area, the land drops away and the mountains come into view — Pikes Peak, to be specific. We rarely stopped, because once we saw the mountains it was like horses running for the barn. For those who do stop, there is, or used to be, a touristy lookout tower with those crummy pay-per-view telescopes.

That’s the way it used to be. These days you’re much more likely to see the prominent brown smear on the horizon that marks greater Denver. If you can see that far. Denver struggles these days to stay within the government’s air quality standards, and doesn’t always succeed. This gateway to the Rockies, this mile-high city with its view of the continental divide, struggles to meet clean air standards. I find that obscene.

Mmm, smell that clean mountain air

I read somewhere that there is not a place left on earth that air pollution hasn’t reached. Not the middle of the African jungle, nor a remote Pacific isle, nor the South Pole, nor the summit of Mount Everest.

Closer to home, however, I need only look at Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s at least an hour’s drive from Denver, well up into the mountains. But look what’s happening there:

That's not the misty haze of distance; it's smog

Smog destroys a pretty view in the park

They can stop or limit traffic in the park any time they need to, for any reason. But this stuff, the dirty air that floats in from the Denver basin, can’t be stopped. It does more than dirty up the view and burn visitors’ eyes. It weakens and kills vegetation. And that leads to all kinds of other bad things.

Anyway, I don’t need to see the smog and traffic in Bejing or measure the shrinking of the polar ice caps. I don’t need pictures of drowning polar bears, or crumbling ice shelves, or mountains of trash at overflowing Italian landfills to know we are already screwing things up pretty royally.

NIMBY, my ass. It’s already happening in my backyard — and in yours. The problem is not down the road and it’s not in another country and it sure as hell is not twenty or thirty or forty years away! It’s here, it’s now, and it’s you and me, babe. Or maybe you know something about an interplanetary shuttle to another dimension …

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