In the last half century, we Americans have confronted and overcome huge environmental challenges. Fifty years ago, the air we breathed was filled with soot, the water we drank was tainted with chemicals, and DDT had nearly driven bald eagles to extinction. In 1970, more than 20 million Americans led by my friend Denis Hayes began to turn the tide with the first Earth Day. Urban and rural, rich and poor, Republicans and Democrats, their message was simple: we need to clean up our planet and protect our environment to create a higher quality of life.
Today, we enjoy the protections of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Our cars are cleaner, we have widespread recycling options, we don’t let factories spew smoke and sludge near elementary schools, and we don’t let businesses stick taxpayers with the bill when they make a mess.
Now as another Earth Day is upon us, we face an even bigger challenge in the form of climate change. A changing climate will affect snowpack and water supply in the district; it will allow new pests to flourish and damage crop production and the livelihoods of our farmers; it will acidify our oceans and kill off the fish that are a central part of our natural heritage.
National and international policy changes are required to address climate change. We need to foster the development of clean energy technologies, find ways for people and goods to travel without spewing carbon dioxide into the air, and assess whether mitigation technologies will be needed to address melting permafrost and rising carbon dioxide levels.
Personal actions also make a difference. When we were rebuilding our house after it burned down four years ago, I remember walking my son Henry through the framed structure and explaining to him why we were using sustainably-harvested FSC certified lumber. As he ran his hands over the wood, we talked about our choice to use LED lighting, energy-efficient heating, and EnergyStar appliances.
Our house uses far less energy than before while being the most comfortable place I’ve ever lived. We can preserve our environment and decrease energy usage. These decisions make real economic sense: the green investments we made will pay for themselves in less than five years.
Let’s commit to taking on the challenges of climate change and overcoming them. I am proud to be a Washingtonian, because we get it here. We understand that a clean environment is not at odds with our success—it is a key component of it. The solution will take all of us working together to tackle the great environmental challenge of our day. We know what it takes to get there because we’ve done it before. And on this Earth Day, let us commit to do it again.
Darcy Burner, a resident of Ames Lake, is a candidate for Congress in Washington’s 1st District.