EARTH DAY – 50 Years On. Where Do We Go From Here? Maybe, Just Maybe, To A Much Better Place

There Very Well May Be A Silver Lining For Our Planet Coming Out Of This Pandemic. Let’s Embrace It!

A Commentary by Doug Draper, Niagara At Large publisher and former St. Catharines Standard environment reporter

Posted April 22, 2020 on Niagara At Large

Yes, that’s me – the one in the front, wearing the gas mask and waving the sign that reads; ‘If You Aren’t Part of the Solution, You Are Part of the Pollution.’

It was 50 years ago – April 22, 1970 – a day I will always remember where I was, as I imagine countless millions of others around the world still do who participated in the very first Earth Day or ‘Environmental Teach-In’ as some chose to call it.

As the old Bob Dylan song goes, I was so much younger then, as the men working in the air-polluting plant behind me and my classmates were quick to remind us. They hurled taunt after taunt while we were out there from; “Go back to school,” to; “What are you trying to do? Put us out of work?”

The orginal ‘Environmental Handbook’ from the first Earth Day in 1970. I still have my copy. On page 71 it says; “Scientists are becoming worried about increasing CO2 (carbon emission) levels because of the greenhouse effect.” In other words, they were warning about the climate cirisis 50 years ago, and here we are, 50 years later.

Actually that Union Carbide plant, located in the heart of Niagara, Ontario in Welland, managed to go on working and keep those guys employed through a later clean-up, ordered by Ontario’s Ministry of Environment back in the days when that ministry had some teeth.

The plant shut down and everyone working in it lost their jobs years later when the federal governments of Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien championed global trade agreements that saw companies like Union Carbide outsource their operations to parts of the world where the labour costs were dirt cheap.

I have sometimes looked at that 50-year-old photo of myself and my old mates from Centennial Secondary School in Welland  and I think of those guys yelling at us about the then-blooming environmental movement threatening their jobs

I think about them and I think about how, at the end of the day, it wasn’t the likes of us, but it was “free trade” agreements that cost theirs and so so many other industrial jobs in this country.

And I can’t help but wonder how many of those workers – even while they may have continued yelling at the likes of us – bought the B.S. that Mulroney and Chretien were shoveling out about how good these trade agreement would be for all of us. 

Maybe that is one more thing to think about on Earth Day – this whole line we get from political and business leaders at higher levels, and right on down to the local level, from knuckle draggers like Jim Diodati, the mayor of Niagara Falls who doubles as a flak for the China corporation girding to urbanize the wetland-rich Thundering Waters Forest in the Niagara River watershed.

Let’s make a collective pledge on this Earth Day and coming out of this pandemic, to save places like this – the Thundering Waters Forest and its provincially significant wetlands in Niagara Falls, Ontario – from knuckle draggers like Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati,,who has backed a China-based corporation’s plans to develop this area.

I’m talking about the B.S. we keep being fed by these plundering pirates – even now, 50 years after the first Earth Day – that anyone who identifies as an environmentalist, we tree huggers or whatever they wish to call us, have just got to understand that there needs to be “balance,” and that we have to be “business friendly” or “open for business” – all code for let’s just go on raping Mother Nature a little bit more.

The young me that you see in the photograph above was a strong idealist (many write that off as someone who is “too naïve”) and someone who believed even then that if enough of us stand up for a better world, we can have a better world.

Well, my wife Mary sometimes accuses me of not growing up very much, and that is true.

We can collectively protect and preserve this wonderful place we live on, for present and future generations. All we need is the will and courage to work together as brothers and sisters to do it.

Call me a hopeless romantic or whatever you want, but I still believe that if enough of us work together and make it clear to the politicians out there that they better start finding a new way of doing business that includes saving forests and wetlands, and reducing the amount of carbon and other poisons in our air and water, their days in politics are numbered, we can elect people into public office – federally, provincially or state-wide, and municipally – who do care.

That means getting rid of the likes of a Jason Kenney and Doug Ford in Canada, a Donald Trump in the United States, and a Jim Diodati here in Niagara.

I was feeling kind of depressed; as I am sure many others were and maybe still are, as we entered this COVID-19 outbreak, that all of our time and attention was sucked up by this virus.

Some friends shared this with me recently. I am posting it here because I really do think it deserves some pause for thought.

Then I came to a conclusion that this disaster could lead to a great sea change for us – one that will help us all realize that a healthy environment plays a major role in keeping us healthy (as in stop messing around in dysfunctional ways with wildlife and nature), and that protecting our environment means more than all of the frigging Jim Diodati, let’s develop on another natural heritage area projects in the world.

Who gives a flying you know what how much some developers can make paving over more of our natural areas if those ecosystems are such a vital part of the life-sustaining resources we need to keep us health and alive. 

You would have to be a Donald Trump or a Doug Ford or a Jim Diodati to not be able to figure that out.

So I remain optimistic that what we are going through now could be a great teaching moment and could lead to a “new normal” that sees citizens working hand in hand with their governments to protect and preserve what we have left of our earth’s natural gifts.

I will have more to say on all of this in the days ahead.

Stay Tuned. Doug Draper

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space following the Bernie Sanders quote below.

 “A Politician Thinks Of The Next Election. A Leader Thinks Of The Next Generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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