Celebrating Earth Day Through Action

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mr. Speaker, 2 days ago we celebrated Earth Day, a holiday that began in 1970, when Senator Gaylord Nelson recognized the growing public movement that we now know as environmentalism, and called on environmentally concerned citizens to join him in cities around the world to demonstrate, teach, and learn about preserving the world's natural wonders.


Speaking on that occasion, Senator Nelson said of the first Earth Day, "It may be the birth date of a new American ethic that rejects the frontier philosophy that the continent was put here for our plunder and accepts the idea that even urbanized, affluent, mobile societies are interdependent with the fragile life-sustaining systems of the air, the water, and the land.'"


Today, we have accomplished many of the goals of the first environmentalists: Cleaning up rivers so polluted by industrial waste that they burned, and air polluted with lead, mercury, and sulfur. But there are still many pollutants that we have not eliminated, and we have come to realize that pollution is not a local problem, but a global one as well.

We alter the environment with factories and refineries, but also through agriculture, fishing and mining. In many ways we are lucky. Drawing on our long experience of environmental remediation and policy-making, we know some of the solutions to the endemic, international problem of climate change.


This is a problem of such scope and depth that it can seem daunting at times. But if I were ever tempted to retreat from confronting this problem because of its size, I need only look at my daughter Alexa, who is here with me today, and my son Eli and realize that this is not a problem I am willing to leave to them.


But Earth Day was first a day for awareness, and I would like to continue that tradition today by taking a short break from the important debates we had earlier today, and celebrate some of the small steps people around the country are taking to reduce their impact on the world we all share.


Some Americans have found that the wind passing over their farms and ranches is as valuable a resource as the oil beneath the farm or ranch once was, and have replaced their oil wells with windmills.


Some have jumped on board in the most American of ways--by starting a business. The green-tech sector is growing by leaps and bounds with companies developing technologies for solar, wind and geothermal energy, biofuels, carbon capture and storage, energy efficiency, smart electric grids, and low-carbon agriculture, to name a few.

Some have replaced their windows and washing machines with more energy-efficient ones, and installed extra insulation to reduce their heating bills. They have discovered that just changing the light bulbs to an energy-efficient model will reduce their electric bill dramatically and save energy.


Some companies now offer transit passes and bike racks to encourage their employees to commute efficiently, and many employees are taking up that challenge.


But Earth Day is also a day to look forward to see what we can do next.

Many Americans will install solar panels, solar water heaters, attic fans and geothermal heat pumps in our homes to reduce our dependence on the power company. Many Americans will buy houses made of renewable materials and cars that run on biofuels. Those same cars will plug into a grid during the day, providing a buffer against blackouts and brownouts.


Other Americans will enjoy public transportation that reaches further out into our suburbs and links our communities more tightly together. And still other Americans will work for companies that build green technologies and sell them all over the world to countries desperate for an answer to their polluted water and air, and mounting energy needs.


These are the efforts that we must begin today so we can see the fruits of our labor tomorrow. But today, we must all remember that Earth Day is an opportunity to teach our children to respect the planet we live on. By taking them hiking or fishing or camping or bicycling, we introduce them to a world of mountains and forests and beaches that they will continue to enjoy and appreciate for the rest of their lives. We protect the environment so our children will have a healthy planet to live on, and we teach our children to be environmentalists so that their children will have the same healthy home.