An Earth Day reminder on how the Republicans have abandoned the environment

An Earth Day reminder on how the Republicans have abandoned the environment

Elizabeth Kolbert writes:

The idea for Earth Day came to Gaylord Nelson all of a sudden one day in the middle of 1969. That summer, “teach-ins” about the Vietnam War were all the rage. It occurred to Nelson, then the junior U.S. senator from Wisconsin: How about a “teach-in” about the environment?

To attract the widest possible audience, Nelson, a Democrat, invited Representative Pete McCloskey, a Republican from California, to co-chair the event. The response was way more enthusiastic than either man had anticipated: on April 22, 1970, some twenty million Americans—a tenth of the country’s population—took to the streets. It was the largest public demonstration in U.S. history, and, as Jamie Henn, one of the founders of, has put it, it “had bite.” By the end of the year, a Republican President, Richard Nixon, had created the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This was followed in relatively short order by the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. All of these measures were approved with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Today, as Earth Day turns fifty, it’s hard to imagine more dolorous circumstances for the occasion. covid-19 has forced online (or cancelled) virtually all the celebrations and protests that had been planned for the anniversary. The Trump Administration has barely even taken the day off from gutting the nation’s environmental regulations. (Last week, the Administration weakened rules governing the emission of mercury and other toxic chemicals from power plants; late last month, it weakened fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks.)

Meanwhile, in Congress, environmental protection has become such a thoroughly partisan issue that across-the-aisle collaborations like Nelson and McCloskey’s are rarer than Amur leopards. Owing to this divide, environmental problems that have emerged since 1970 have simply gone unaddressed. Congress has not passed—or even really come close to passing—a single piece of legislation aimed at addressing climate change. (All the steps taken by the Obama Administration to try to curb carbon emissions were done through regulation.) Precisely at the “moment when such legislative action is most needed,” James Morton Turner, a professor at Wellesley College, and Andrew Isenberg, a professor at the University of Kansas, have written, it has become “almost politically unimaginable.” [Continue reading…]

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