Happy Birthday, Earth Day; You’re On Your Own

The nation that invented the atom bomb to end World War II could take on global climate change with the same kind of drive and innovation

By Elan Barnehama

I’m thinking that President Bush had the annual celebration of Earth Day in mind when he announced last week that the U.S. strategy for tackling global warming was to pretty much do nothing for the next dozen years. It could be that he was reacting to the news that China has overtaken the United States as the world’s leader in carbon emission. I mean, really, how many more setbacks can one administration take?

Sure, there’s still some argument about the causes of global climate change but there is little debate about the consequences. A recent Earth Day message oddly paired Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson voicing concern for our planet – although that concentration of hot air is harmful. Even the Pentagon understands the consequences for ignoring climate change and has linked global stability and peace with environmental health. This is not the time to do nothing.

Has the time really passed for our national resolve to result in action and innovation? When polio wreaked havoc on so many lives, Dr. Jonas Salk introduced his polio vaccine and parents across the United States let out a collective sigh of relief. When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik II and ended any illusion that the United States was keeping up with the Russians, we responded by adapting school curricula to focus more on math and science and by passing the National Defense Education Act, which offered hundreds of millions of dollars toward student loans, scholarships, and fellowships, as well as the purchase of scientific equipment.

I find it puzzling, that despite a consensus that scientific research results in advances that support our environment, economy and security, the United States continues to lose its science and math edge. Currently, one of the clearest and loudest voices I hear in support of science education is that of former congressman Newt Gingrich. Mr. Gingrich was a member of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century that in January 2001 correctly warned that the greatest threat to national security was a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The same report went on to list the decline in science research and education as the second greatest threat to U.S. national security. Mr. Gingrich’s promotion of science and math education should be part of a bipartisan effort.

With a Manhattan Project approach, we might be able to build an SUV that gets 100 mpg, or create factories that are free of harmful waste and emissions, or find a viable alternative to oil. But that would leave China in the lead.

Elan Barnehama is a writer living in Western Massachusetts. He has taught at several colleges and was, most recently, a Senior Writer for Wesleyan University in Connecticut. His commentaries have aired on public radio and appeared in newspapers. E-mail Elan at: elan32@gmail.com.

One thought on “Happy Birthday, Earth Day; You’re On Your Own”

  1. Rebuilding our educational system and developing Green Technologies ought to be the basis for a bipartisan consensus for preserving our economy and democracy.


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