Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It was fairly big news for me back in 1970 as one of its founders was a U.S. Senator from my home state of Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson. The environmental movement was in its infancy back then. Many copies of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring were sold, and the public was becoming aware of the damage being done to our soil, water, air, and wildlife.
Lots of people “Monday morning quarterbacked” the rules and regulations put in place starting in that time. I remember the “good old days” a bit more critically than some and think, overall, that we are better off making an effort to leave the planet a bit cleaner than we found it.
In 2009 I was in Europe for a conference on alternate energy just as the stimulus bill was being debated. Our German hosts were proud of the many wind farms visible from the high-speed rail lines. I noted just how many of those turbines were not rotating; reliability was a huge problem back then and cynics here in the United States thought it was all a big tax dodge.
A stop in Vienna put me in St. Stephen’s Cathedral on Palm Sunday. It was (and probably still is) being refurbished. While blasting its 900-year-old stone exterior, they found out it was not a dark gray stone but a light cream color material. Nine centuries of fossil fuels had built up on the exterior so slowly no one knew it was going on. That same air went into the lungs of many generations of the area’s residents.
The goal back then was for the United States to have 20% of its electricity come from the wind by 2020. You do not hear anything about progress toward that goal these days. An interesting side note: The United States had 20% of its “power” from wind back in 1920, a decade before the rural electrification law made farmers dismantle their wind turbines and water pumpers.
Political infighting prevented U.S. firms, including gear companies, from fully benefiting from that 2009 initiative. The lesson from doing the difficult but necessary thing in the 1970s was ignored. Those tough rules and regulations made U.S. firms the world leaders in environmental remediation technology; thousands of jobs were created. Big investments were made in new plant and equipment. Some of that money was spent at gear companies.
Sometimes doing the right thing hurts in the short term but pays off big down the road.