On Earth Day – A Look Back At Our Past With Questions For The Future

*Note: This audio essay first aired on KRCC (Colorado Springs’ NPR affiliate, 91.5 FM) on April 22, 2021. The link to the program is here; the audio file and the text from the essay are below.

I want to share a quote with you from an ad published in the New York Times in January of 1970. 

“On April 22, we start to reclaim the environment that we have wrecked.” 

Those words were written by the organizers of the very first Earth Day.  It’s grown to the largest civic observance in the world. 

How have we done in the 51 years since then?  A historical look suggests…not great.

Climate Central reports that since that first Earth Day, carbon dioxide concentrations in our air rose twice as much than they did in the entire century before 1970. There’s now more atmospheric carbon dioxide than in the last two million years. 

We feel that here. 

In 2019, Climate Central reportedColorado Springs has warmed 2.7 degrees since 1970, faster than the national average of 2.5 degrees. The heat’s changing our seasons. Australian and Chinese researchers recently found that in our part of the world, summer has lengthened by more than two weeks since the early 1950s.  

That matters in Colorado. 

Our mountains are the headwaters for four major rivers that supply water to 18 states. A lot of our water in the Pikes Peak region comes from out near Leadville. When heat goes up and summer runs longer, we get less water. 2020 was the third-driest year in our state’s history.  

Heat also brings fire. 

Our state fire chief recently noted that 20 of the largest fires in state history came in the last 20 years and the top three all came last year, burning 600,000 acres. 

So let’s think of this 51st Earth Day as “roll-up-our-sleeves” time.  We’ve got a lot of work to do before Earth Day turns 52. 

Until our next mountainside chat—be good, be well, and no matter what, climb on.

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