By Barbara Kessler

Earth Day is 38 years old and still going strong. That says something about our nation’s commitment to the environment, or at least the commitment of those who’ve kept conservation issues – clean air, clean water, pure food — on the table all these years.

Photo © 2008 by Kim Komenich | Distributed by Noofangle Media
Thousands gather in San Francisco for the Green Apple Festival Sunday.

Despite the Bush Administration’s renegade status outside the global groundswell to address climate change and clean up the planet, the United States is full of conservation-minded individuals and groups. Increasingly, they’re everyone, not just “tree huggers” and certainly not just Fair Trade latte-sipping liberals, either. They’re Republicans and Baptists; Southerners and Northerners; farmers and truckers. California is chock full of environmentalists, and thank God for them. California’s attempts to put curbs on car emissions may help break a nationwide deadlock on that front; its farmers’ ability to grow organic vegetables helps us all. The Silicon Valley brain trust is working hard to unlock the answers to affordable solar power, and the state’s swaggering, eco-friendly Republican governor puts the lie to the stereotype of the wimpy environmentalist.

The truth is Earth Day was always more than the passion of just hippie types. In 1970, it was President Nixon who signed the bill enacting Earth Day. Today, some of the leaders of the new order are those good ol’ boys in West Texas where they’re tipping their cowboy hats to better see the new, towering wind turbines set up outside Sweetwater. They’re also growing organic cotton out there on the plains, more than in any other state.

Of course, some people still view environmentalist agendas skeptically. There are those who question whether humans are causing global warming, and others who say climate changes are nominal and natural and little needs to be done. These are fair debating points in a democracy. But the discussion is partly academic.

Even if you don’t believe there’s a pending global emergency, there are plenty of related fires that need attention. The U.S. is paying in precious lives and billions of dollars to retain access to the world’s dwindling oil reserves in the Middle East. Our corporations are lopping off mountaintops in Appalachia to scrape out the last coal. Like oil, it’s finite.

Midwest farmers are chasing a biofuel frenzy that’s sent a cascade of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers downstream, not to mention what it’s done to food prices.

Our little boys are being “feminized” by plastics in their environment, and it’s a good bet that the contaminants turning up in our drinking water nationwide are not an elixir for good health.

Someone referred to our “mauling” of the planet over this Earth Day weekend. It seems like a given. And we haven’t even talked about melting ice caps, flooding cities, Katrina, polar bears or food shortages.

But rather than get discouraged, we can and should act. Today, on Earth Day, and all this week, organizers would like Americans to take the simple action of calling their representatives in Washington by phoning the Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121.

Tell lawmakers you want energy alternatives, clean water and a brighter future for your children. Tell them that you:

  • Support emissions limits on cars and curbs on polluting businesses to alleviate global warming.
  • Want new and renewed green investment tax credits for homeowners and businesses trying to cut their energy use.
  • Think American-made cars should average 35 miles per gallon or more and also should come with incentives for buyers who purchase gas sippers and hybrids.
  • Want them to cut pollution and create jobs by devising a green “economic stimulus package” that fosters the growth of domestic industries like wind power.
  • Support research for fuels made from algae and waste and other sources that don’t steal food-producing acres, and want Congress to encourage small farmers with government incentives for resting overworked fields and employing organic practices.

Or maybe you have a pet project that is helping the environment, like the No Child Left Inside program that would strengthen outdoor science education and get our kids back in touch with nature.

Next, you can go join the 15,000+ electronic signers of the Sky Petition posted at Earth Day Network .

It’s ask is straightforward:

Dear Members of Congress:

We elected you to lead, and are now asking you to lead us out of the climate crisis with the boldness and courage that the crisis requires. As the home of the world’s boldest innovators, the world’s strongest economy, and one of its leading democracies, the United States Congress must champion the effort to solve global warming or risk losing our economic future and our democratic principles.

We demand that Congress act now to cap greenhouse gas emissions and stop global warming by implementing the following:

1. Impose an immediate moratorium on the building of all new conventional coal-fired power plants, and require a phase out of 30 percent of existing coal plants by 2030.

2. Require that all utilities generate 30 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030.

3. Require that all new buildings, renovations and developments immediately reduce fossil-fuel energy consumption by 50 percent, and that all new buildings become ‘carbon neutral’ by 2030.

4. Protect the poor and middle class from unfairly bearing the cost of solving the climate crisis.

Happy Earth Day.