The election-year Earth Day dance

Voters must demand more than the usual rhetoric and photo-ops from this year’s candidates.

This year’s Earth Day will certainly bear the marks of a presidential campaign. We expect to see the usual dance of partisan politics – Democrats assail the Republican record and Republicans accuse Democrats of being extremists.

Accordingly, the de facto Democratic Party nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, is in Houston hoping to shed light on that city’s smog problem and former Gov. George W. Bush’s horrid environmental track record. Meanwhile, Bush plans to be on the Maine coast, touting his support for more moderate public-private environmental partnerships. Voters must demand more from our candidates than the usual rhetoric and Earth Day photo-ops.

Over the last six months, this board wrote editorials on a plethora of environmental problems that will certainly endanger our future health and economic well-being. Our editorials addressed pollution in the Columbia River, mercury deposits, Superfund sites, wetland degradation, transportation inefficiency, the Clean Air Act, strip mining, ethanol pollution, the Endangered Species Act, emissions, coal gasification, Environmental Protection Agency appointees and waterways, among other issues. In that same period, we received only a handful of letters in response. Environmental problems simply do not garner the attention they deserve, even when the media makes valid attempts to bring them to the forefront.

In 1970, when Earth Day was first held, there was no EPA. The 1970s saw the establishment of our most basic federal environmental guidelines. But by the 1980s, the public began to drown in the scientific data revolution, many adopting a blase attitude based on the appearance that “everything causes cancer.” The technological advancements of the 1990s and its ensuing information flood might have set us up for even more indifference.

On the other hand, technology provides powerful tools for political organization – its simplicity and speed certainly rival editorial pages. But no medium can create a movement where there is not one. The presidential candidates will only make the environment a central issue if the voting public steps up and demands it.