By Senator Lena C. Taylor
I learned a long time ago to never underestimate the difference one voice can make. Whether in protecting a right or a person, we have countless illustrations of how a single individual changed a moment, outcome or a law. Take the issue of protecting the planet, for example.
No voice was louder than that of Wisconsin native, Gaylord Nelson. This former attorney, member of the Wisconsin State Senate, governor and U.S. senator created Earth Day in 1969. After witnessing the impact of a major oil spill, Nelson took a stand for the environment and persuaded others to work toward a sustainable earth. He became a voice in the fight for clean air and the development of policies for clean water. He challenged us to understand that everything on this planet was impacted by the choices we made as humans.
With the first Earth Day came the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or EPA, and laws to ensure we would protect our water and air. Over the years we’ve made advancements and suffered setbacks. Today, we are facing real challenges. Unseasonably warm days and the impact of global warming. Increased natural disasters are believed to be linked to climate change and increasing extreme weather events. And while the science supports these findings, we know that other types of climates can affect how we respond to these changes. The political climate is one such example.
We have legislative naysayers, deniers, and outright antagonizers, when it comes to enacting the steps we need to protect the Earth. We have man-made disasters, harmful material choices and policies that have had both intentional and unintentional, consequences on everything from the air we breathe to the water we drink.
Whether Milwaukee’s lead laterals, Flint Michigan’s water crisis or the nation’s landfills, we have made crucial mistakes that could cost us dearly. When we consider the many substances that negatively impact our environment, we can see a direct line to air, water, noise, soil and other forms of pollution. Ironically, because of the global COVID-19 Health Pandemic, we saw less car, noise, and industrial pollution. COVID-19 Safer at Home orders, inadvertently, made the earth a bit safer. Understanding the environmental gains made during pandemic, I am compelled to ask how we build on that pause in environmental damage. How do we permanently reduce our global footprint?
Since that first Earth Day, we’ve become smarter about this whole thing. We are asking questions about environmental justice. We better understand that all people and communities are entitled to equal protection of our environmental laws. We know that one’s race, income, or where you live shouldn’t determine if you have clean air and clean water. Today, we know that this isn’t a conversation that belongs only to elected officials, but to every resident, stakeholder, and community partner. There are 1000’s of Gaylord Nelson’s that have stepped up to continue the fight. Happy Earth Day, and if we do things better, we’ll have many more!