It’s Earth Day, an observance begun in 1970 to call attention to environmental issues, in a time when the nation’s air and water were growing more foul by the year. Today, the focus remains just as vital in an age when climate change and plastic islands in the ocean are the main worries.
Which begs this question: Why should cleaning up the world create such a political divide?
After all, we all live here. Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, we breathe the same air, drink the same water and live on the same planet. Keeping it clean and viable for current and future generations should be in everyone’s interest.
Of course, the fuse of this conflict is lit when planetary health overlaps with business profits. Solving environmental problems without damaging the economy is tricky and requires ideas that keep people from having to choose between breathing and eating.
The debate rages as to whether the earth’s climate truly is changing and whether mankind is the cause of much of it. Advocates for and against quote research on either side of the issue, but the majority indicate human activity is a key factor. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere lead to higher temperatures and warmer ocean currents that can melt polar sea ice, raise sea levels and spark severe storms, droughts and other harsh weather conditions worldwide.
As with many other issues, the extreme positions on either end of the spectrum dominate the discussion. That includes deniers on one side and alarmists on the other, the ostriches and the Chicken Littles, one blocking any attempt to reduce petroleum use, the other anxious to dry-dock entire industries with no concern over the harm caused. These shrill voices fail to seek a reasonable middle ground that would ease environmental harm while preserving jobs, or transitioning to new ones.
Is such a plan possible? It was when laws protecting air and water were passed in the 1970s, and can be done again, if approached with the right balance in mind.
Such efforts were discussed recently at a forum, “Climate Change: A Common Sense Approach and Free Market Solution” at Brenau University. One of the speakers, the Rev. Bill Coates of First Baptist Church of Gainesville, summed up well the contrasting sides in the debate.
“One is denial and dismissal. In other words, it’s all a hoax. That’s one extreme. It’s ridiculous, but there are people who hold to it.” he said. “But equally ridiculous is this alarmism that you sometimes hear. ‘The sky is falling and we’re all going to die.’
“Care of creation is about balance. We balance reasonable policies, innovative technology, along with religious and human values — all working together in balance with one another.”
That starts with acknowledging the consensus of science and realizing the planet is growing warmer and, as a result, climatic changes growing more drastic.
“We are changing the planet’s atmosphere and the planet’s ocean chemistry at a rate that’s 1,000 times faster than is natural,” Mark Farmer, a University of Georgia cellular biology professor. “It’s not so much that things are getting warmer or cooler. It’s the rate at which they’re happening that’s alarming to those of us who are scientists.”
Once the problem is agreed upon, the goal is to find a solution that ends exploitation of the earth’s resources for profit without giving in to those bent on destroying capitalism.
Dr. Vernon Dixon of the Citizens Climate Lobby, a Hiawassee resident and frequent contributor to these pages, proposes a federal tax on greenhouse gas emissions to be returned to consumers as a dividend to help pay for higher energy costs passed on to them. He calls it a free-market solution that would take economic harm to individuals out of the equation.
He also points out that dirty air and warming temperatures exact their own high costs, through health problems, lost work productivity and damage caused by severe weather. That indicates a direct human toll even to those who aren’t sympathetic to the plight of polar bears.
Dixon believes such a plan would help ease the costly transition from fossil fuels to greener energy sources such as wind and solar, which remain expensive and difficult to implement on a wide scale.
“It’s the best solution that we know of to combat climate change,” he said. “The prices of fossil fuels rapidly become much more expensive than the price of alternatives (like) wind and solar, and there’s a rapid switchover to clean energy.”
Beyond an economic issue, protecting the world we share is a moral imperative, and why several pastors attended the gathering pushing for action. Their point: We don’t own this planet; like boarders, we’re just guests here for a short time, and we owe it to our host to leave the world as we found it.
“God’s plan is very clear. His instructions are very clear,” said the Rev. John Cromartie, a retired United Methodist pastor. “We are to care for this precious creation and, likewise, the Bible is clear about our responsibility when things go amiss.”
Solving environmental problems is an issue for society at large, but we can make a difference in smaller ways close to home just by keeping our town, neighborhoods and waterways clean.
One such effort, the Great American Cleanup, is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday on the Downtown Gainesville Square. By volunteering to spruce up our roadsides, parks and public areas, residents can help eliminate trash that often ends up in waterways and eventually Lake Lanier. Every little bit helps.
A cleaner, safer world with drinkable water, breathable air and a stable climate is a common goal we all have. To get there sensibly, it’s time to move past the strident rhetoric from both extremes to take better care of this world we share.
Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.