Challenges for the environment Earth Day: Planet under stress, even as U.S. efforts produce visible improvements.

April 22, 1996

EARTH DAY 1996 reminds us that American lifestyles and values, technology and laws have changed dramatically as a result of the grass-roots environmental movement that came together to organize the first such celebration in 1970.

Air and water are cleaner in many places, recycling and conservation ethics have moved into the mainstream conscience and legal code, endangered species have avoided extinction. At home, the Chesapeake Bay is benefiting from a persistent program aimed at reducing pollution and protecting wetlands. If crabs, oysters and wild geese are less abundant than in the past, at least there is dedicated attention to restoring their numbers.

Through Earth Day and the spirit it engenders, millions of people have grown in knowledge and awareness of the fragility of our environment. It's a personal commitment, not just a campaign for another law.

Certainly, much of the rhetoric surrounding Earth Day focuses on legislation and regulation. The early 1970s saw a series of landmark laws to stem the march of pollution and ecological degradation, and creation of the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce these new standards. Much of the progress that has been made reflects the successes of those comprehensive measures.

Today, the attention is centered on Congress' efforts to roll back those achievements, an environmental counterattack engineered by those opposed to rigid regulation and centralized control, as well as by emboldened advocates of rapacity. That the Republican leadership has abandoned support for this campaign of reversal recognizes the strong commitment of the American public to the environment.

Unfortunately, the global environmental picture is much less encouraging. Aggravated water shortages, air pollution, deforestation, acid rain, fish depletion and overpopulation are acute environmental problems for much of the Earth. The ozone hole, greenhouse gases and global warming, the estimated loss of 200 endangered species every day -- these challenges transcend national borders and continents.

So Earth Day 1996 is no cause for celebration of victory or for complacency, but for a rededication of mind and heart to the ongoing challenge of environmental stewardship.

Pub Date: 4/22/96

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