Magazine article American Forests

Which Way to the Revolution?

Magazine article American Forests

Which Way to the Revolution?

Article excerpt

No one is ever against the environment. We talk about modifying the weather, of making deserts bloom, of turning forests into pastures and prairies into breadbaskets. But it's probably fair to say that except in wartime and in a relatively small area, no one deliberately sets out to make this world unlivable.

Even Adolf Hitler had his "Eagle's Nest,' a private retreat amid Bavarian beauty. The worst scoundrels in history no doubt valued fresh air, clean water, fine scenery, and agreeable climate. The environment has never been the enemy of humankind.

The same cannot be said about environmentalists. For decades the word often began with a sneer and ended with a hiss. Environmentalists were seen as unreasonable tree-huggers and posy-sniffers who stood in the way of what was called progress, With what seemed overblown concerns about damage to the earth, they threatened jobs and the highest level of human comforts the world has ever known.

Even so, when the first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970, environmentalists came out of the woodwork. With relatively little notice, more than 20 million Americans indicated their concern for the way we manage Mother Earth. Youngsters shunned motorized transportation and walked, biked, or rollerskated to school. College campuses banned cars and even buried one. There were tree plantings and nature walks, rallies and speeches, and in the weeks that followed, Congress passed the first important environmental legislation.

When an extravaganza occurs, it is human nature to try to repeat the experience. More often than not, the results are disappointing, it being difficult to recapture the ebuilience of unexpected success. Twenty years after the first Earth Day, a second will be held this April, and indications are that the first will be surpassed.

Preparation has extended over a year instead of a few months.

Hundreds of communities are being marshalled in this country, and more than a thousand organizations in 109 other countries have agreed synchronize their efforts. There is talk of of televison uplinks and downlinks to coordinate widespread efforts, and a conquest of Mt. Everest will be telecast live if all goes well. Participants are being asked to plant one tree, and organizers are hoping for a billion new ones. (The American Forestry Association's Global ReLeafe program is a major element in this Earth Day thrust-see "Earth Day and Beyond" on page 54 and "Three of the Best Releaf Projects We Know" on page 42.)

The difference between the two events is less one of planning or technology than of attitude. Unless one is a logger in the Northwest or an oil driller in the Arctic, environmentalism is now an accepted state of mind. A Republican candidate for president called himself an environmentalist. World leaders hold summit conferences on environmental questions. In a recent survey by the Los Angeles Times, Americans used the E-word to describe themselves more frequently than they used words like Democrat, Republican, business person, conservative, or liberal.

Simply put, over the past 20 years, and particularly over the past two, we got nervous. Scientists had been talking about the greenhouse effect for years, but suddenly, in the unusual droughts of 1988, it seemed a real possibility. Iowa, a bread-and-butter state where the idea of air pollution had once been a crowded hog lot, is already looking ahead to the possibility of global warming. The lowa legislature is considering setting up a $10 million trust fund that would (a) devise new technologies to reduce the impact of CO, as a greenhouse gas and (b) devise ways to adapt to a changing climate by turning to different crops. After the 1988 summer, when many Iowa farmers could not even muster a corn crop in the sizzling heat, talk of shifting agricultural areas, altered forests, and mass migrations of people was not to be ignored. Also not to be ignored is the ozone hole discovered over Antarctica, very possibly related to human activities. …

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