Originally created 04/22/00

Earth Day progress

The nation's 30th annual Earth Day is not going unacknowledged in Augusta. It will be celebrated in exhibitions, competitions, entertainment, food and other family fun events, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today, marking the historic opening of the 1,100-acre, ecologically diverse Phinizy Swamp Nature Park to the general public.

Spokespersons for the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, the non-profit group that operates the park on Lock and Dam Road in south Augusta, have nothing but praise for the contributors and volunteers who have done so much the past year to make the Phinizy opening possible.

It's heartening that Augusta area residents, even after 30 years, still have a healthy interest in and appreciation of ecology awareness. But the same can't be said for everywhere.

Nationwide, Earth Day is still celebrated, but not with the gusto or participation of the early years. Perhaps that's because Earth Day -- designed to get Americans involved in cleaning up and preserving the planet's natural environment -- has been a victim of its own success.

The Pacific Research Institute highlights some of those successes:

A 97 percent decline in ambient lead concentrations since 1977.

The 42 percent decline in toxic releases since 1988.

The urbanized use of only 5.6 percent of total U.S. land area.

The decline in soil erosion by about 40 million tons every year.

Annual increases, since the first Earth Day, in forest land in the U.S. and other industrialized nations.

Ecological achievements over three decades have prompted historians to note that environmentalism has taken its place as one of the nation's preeminent social movements, along with abolitionism, women's suffrage, labor and civil rights.

Of course, this also means it has not been without controversy -- and today the environmental movement is more controversial than ever. With its most visible battles won, it's now wandering into areas that are murky, and where success may not even be welcome.

For instance, what's the public to make of global warming? Is it caused by industrial development or Mother Nature? Indeed, is it a real phenomena or just a weather quirk?

Who knows? But what is known is that global warming and other recent environmental proposals are creating opportunities for power-hungry government bureaucrats to draft Draconian rules which can negatively (and needlessly) impact the economy, affecting the lives of every American.

If environmentalism becomes a vehicle to further build up the regulatory state, it will surely lose its public appeal. Yet this doesn't haven't to be.

Prestigious ecologist Steve Haywood, author of the Index of Leading Environmental Indicators, says that sustaining the planet should come from decentralizing environmental regulations, assigning property rights to environmental goods, and producing better systems for monitoring and assessing environmental progress.

Haywood's suggested reforms are not only good for the environment, they're also good for the economy -- and for individual freedom. Improving the environment does not have to force Americans to surrender their personal or economic liberties.


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