Tomorrow my grandson, Jamie Webb, turns two years old. It’s also Earth Day’s 47th birthday and, not coincidentally, the first anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement on global climate change.
The events are not unrelated, for absent a missile miscalculation, the most important issue in my grandson’s future is the health of the planet. Since the first Earth Day we have made much progress in protecting our water, cleaning our air and, more recently, addressing the impacts of climate change. Underlying that change was a worldview that emphasized sustainability over exploitation.
But in the name of unleashing American industrial might, the Republicans in Washington have revived the tired canard that the economy and the environment are in conflict with each other; that nature’s sole purpose is to provide resources for humans to exploit; and that to do so we must privatize the things we hold in common – our public lands, our streams, rivers and oceans, the air we breathe.
That this is nonsense was demonstrated once again – this time by Yale’s annual Environmental Performance Index: the countries with the healthiest environments – and this should be obvious – are also among the most prosperous. Scandinavia tops the index (Finland, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden rank 1-4), while Afghanistan, Niger, Madagascar, Eritrea and Somalia, long troubled and destitute, are at the bottom.
It’s time to put away the idea that prosperity comes out of dirty smokestacks and polluted streams. For the sake of all our grandchildren, it’s time, not to end the war on coal, but to win it.