Ask Eartha: Being green and grateful this Thanksgiving
Special to the Daily
I know you tend to address environmental problems requiring action. Are there any issues that we should be grateful for during this Thanksgiving period? — Erin, Dillon
Thanks so much for asking, Erin. While the gratitude theme may seem a little overdone this time of year, most of us recognize that we should spend more time being grateful every single day. On the environmental front, there are a lot of things to be happy about. For starters, the recent election yielded some great wins in Colorado. Summit County’s successful 1A ballot initiative will not only result in a safer community by increasing ambulance and 911 funding, but will also improve local water quality. Summit residents will be able to recycle electronics and household wastes like paints for free, keeping toxic substances out of our landfills and waterways. We’re also fortunate that environmentally-minded candidates were re-elected in our state; including Dan Gibbs, Millie Hamner and Jared Polis.
In addition to recent wins, it’s worth remembering and hailing our longstanding environmental laws in the U.S. Although we take these laws for granted, they form the foundation of environmental protection in our country. If all developing countries adopted laws similar to the U.S. and Western Europe, the world’s environment would be much better off.
The 1960s and ’70s represented the heyday of environmental law adoption in the U.S. The Clean Air Act passed in 1963, followed by the Wilderness Act in 1964. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was adopted in 1969. Although the average American has probably never heard of NEPA, it plays an especially important role in our community. NEPA regulates projects that occur on federal lands, including our local ski areas which are predominantly on U.S. Forest Service land. Any proposed project that may affect the environment triggers the NEPA process. When you hear about the Forest Service and a ski area conducting an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), it’s because of NEPA requirements. The NEPA process also mandates public input, allowing citizens and other stakeholders like you to submit comments. This public involvement allows us to have spirited debate and influence final NEPA decisions.
Around the time all of these laws were being penned, the Environmental Protection Agency was created by the Nixon Administration in 1970 — representing a huge milestone in the nascent environmental movement. In 1973, the Endangered Species Act was passed. The Clean Water Act was adopted in 1977, formalizing and expanding upon earlier laws to greatly reduce water pollution. The 1980s continued the trend, starting with the “Superfund Act,” officially known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Remember the panic about the ozone hole back in the ’80s? The Montreal Protocol (1987) was an international treaty that banned ozone-depleting substances. The results were so successful that the ozone hole is no longer a concern. It shows what a focused international effort can do in a very short period of time. Imagine if world leaders had the same sense of urgency on solving climate change!
While most U.S. environmental statutes were passed more than 30 years ago, many of these laws continue to be amended and strengthened.
So what fueled the environmental movement that began in the 1960s that led to these expansive protections? One key influence was the publication of “Silent Spring,” Rachel Carson’s seminal work, in 1962. Although the book focused heavily on DDT and other pesticides, the theme of “Silent Spring” was that humans were causing irreversible damage to our environment. The book was a call to action for citizens to demand the government create laws protecting our environment. The resulting grassroots movement not only banned the use of DDT, but also encouraged the creation of the EPA and our country’s major environmental laws.
Could our federal environmental laws be stronger? Should we be regulating greenhouse gas emissions? Of course. But we should feel very fortunate for the protections that we have in place. In many developing countries, there are no laws (or laws that are rarely enforced) protecting clean air and water. And like our predecessors, we should feel empowered that we can make a difference. Grassroots initiatives to reduce climate change and inform consumers where their food comes from are slowly gaining momentum. For now, I’m grateful for the laws that currently protect my family and my community. Happy Thanksgiving week.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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