Earth Day ’98

Wednesday marked the annual celebration of Earth Day. Though thousands of people mark this day by bicycling or carpooling to work, recycling newspapers and cans, or turning off lights when they leave a room – the effort dies when the day is done. What good is conserving energy and limiting resource use for just a day if the other 364 pass without a thought given to the environment?

Conservation is something in which all people can participate. On one extreme are those who argue the price of gas should be increased to levels comparable to those of Europe. This would discourage people from buying and driving gas-guzzling cars that dominate the American highway. Instead, people would use mass transit, car-pooling or alternative means of transportation (feet, bicycle, etc.) to get around. While this may indeed result in reduced gas consumption, its effects on the American economy are unknown. Likewise, the political fallout from support of such a high gas tax makes it highly unlikely such a situation will occur.

A less extreme measure would be a greater emphasis on simple levels of conservation – conserving energy; recycling cans, newspapers, glass; and further research on alternative energy. Nuclear energy is cost-effective, but has significant byproducts while solar energy is the exact opposite.

At GW, the low level of recycling the University can do because of contaminated bins (one non-recyclable tossed in can ruin a batch) is well documented. Similarly, the District of Columbia has effectively stopped recycling programs because of lacking funds. In many cities, recycling and conservation programs started in the late ’80s and early ’90s – when it was vogue to be up on all the details of the ozone layer and greenhouse gases – have gone by the wayside.

Lack of public interest has resulted in cutbacks in what is viewed as a luxury. But with the global and ongoing effects of El Ni?o this year, which potentially have been exacerbated by a declining environment, attention should be refocused on the “luxury” of global environmental stability.

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