Has Earth Day Lost Its Way?

On Saturday April 16 I made a little experiment at Earth Day. Having read in the New York Times on the 15th about the amazing settlement of the lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), I decided to announce it with a sign at the Earth Day fair. In the morning I made my modest sign, which said “TVA to close 18 coal plants over six years! Lawsuit by 4 states, 3 green groups, includes $ billions for pollution controls. The Kids Won!”

After lunch we bussed over to Santa Barbara Street and walked up to the fair. For two hours I walked through the crowds, holding the sign steadily for easy reading, and stopping on some occasions to speak with people in the booths. It was a beautiful day, with many children of all ages. When I saw so many children I was delighted, as they are the ones who will benefit most from our efforts to control climate change and preserve as many species as possible.

I had made a few copies of the newspaper article in the event that some people might want the details of the settlement and the states and organizations that had participated. I need not have gone to the trouble. It soon became evident that the vast majority of people were not curious enough to read the sign. Of the few who did take a moment to read it, at least a third wanted to know if the message was a good thing or a bad one.

I had thought that Earth Day with its concern for the environment was the best possible place to find concerned citizens—particularly parents, as science has predicted that extreme weather conditions will get worse before they get better. I was wrong. Some of the volunteers in the environmentally related booths understood the significance of the TVA settlement, but the vast majority of the people there did not. Perhaps I missed the booth devoted to 350 ppb.

Even after The Inconvenient Truth and the increasingly devastating storms, floods, fires and heat waves across the nation, most people do not realize that we are under attack by climate change and largely failing to respond effectively. Taken as a whole, the media have not informed the public of the increasing dangers that have cost the U.S. hundreds of billions in property damage and some 2,800 lives in the last decade. The TVA settlement agreement is a huge step toward reducing our greenhouse gases and other toxins. The EPA has estimated that it will prevent premature deaths and 21,000 asthma attacks. This time, The Kids Have Won.

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