EARTH DAY IS EVERY DAY
Art by Jennifer Dolan
It’s 2020. This year marks 100 years that women have had the vote in the United States. It also marks the 50th Earth Day, and this woman voter who was born on Earth Day has a few things to say about that.
On April 22nd, 1970, former US Senator and Governor of Wisconsin Gaylord Nelson organized a teach-in about environmental issues that was the first Earth Day. Nelson planted the seeds for so much environmental policy and activism, as did John Muir and Aldo Leopold. Environmentalism has so many of its roots in the state of Wisconsin, and if you ever spent a day hiking in one of our state parks, or fishing on one of our many lakes, it is easy to see why.
When it comes to addressing concerns about air and water quality, or climate change, it can seem as though with every step forward we have taken several steps back. We currently have a president who believes climate change is a hoax, and has appointed people to head the Environmental Protection Agency who have lifted many protections of our air and water.
Climate change was discovered more than 80 years ago by an amateur scientist named Guy Callendar, who noticed that as levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased, temperatures rose. Despite the amount of evidence he had gathered, the scientific community was slow to embrace the concept.
Most Americans first heard of climate change in 1988 when Colorado Senator Tim Wirth called on NASA researcher James Hansen to testify about its potential effects before the US Senate. For many Americans, the link between an increase in carbon dioxide and a rise in global temperatures first became known as either “the greenhouse effect” or “global warming.” Ever since some people have used global warming as a punchline every time it snows. Of course, rising temperatures affect different parts of the planet in different ways.
In Wisconsin, climate change has made things a lot wetter. This has presented certain challenges for our farmers; mainly erosion. Milder winters have led to an increase in garden pests and parasites. Yet climate change had seemed like an abstract concept, even for many environmentalists, because until fairly recently we weren’t feeling its effects. The increase in vector borne illness and severe weather events has proven painful and costly. Most people have now experienced one or both of these.
For so many years, addressing climate change has been presented as a costly venture, but we are now seeing just how expensive inaction on climate change can be. Repairs to infrastructure and insurance claims that drive up premiums are the toll of each severe weather event.
I have been a lifelong environmentalist. My love for the planet has been my top voting issue, has guided my purchases, and has been a factor in every major decision in my lifetime. It has also been at the root of my greatest frustrations, because no matter what I do as an individual, it never has enough impact.
Every year on my birthday, I used to send out a wish list to friends and family, asking them to do something good for the environment. I asked people to put up bird houses, use reusable shopping bags, plant trees, choose to buy local and organic foods, conserve energy in a variety of ways… but not this year. This year, I am only asking people to do one thing: Vote.
Vote up and down the ballot for candidates who are committed to decreasing carbon emissions, protecting our air and water, and promoting biodiversity. This year, voting while staying safe means requesting an absentee ballot. Visit https://www.vote411.org/wisconsin for more information on how to request an absentee ballot.
While one person can make a difference, our institutions, especially government, is capable of accomplishing so much more. We need to reduce carbon emissions by half in order to avoid the worst-case scenarios. That is going to require action on the part of government at all levels. But we are never going to have a government that is committed to the values put forth on that first Earth Day if we don’t vote in candidates who share those values.
Vote! Your future depends on it.