Will Kentucky be the new Tornado Alley?
Opinion Contributor: Dr. Justin Mog, Assistant to the Provost for Sustainability Initiatives
Earth Day is coming, and I’ve got that feeling again. I’m worried. Sure, I love to celebrate all that Mother Nature provides and to honor those who rise above the shortsighted greed of our business-as-usual lives to defend her from further destruction. But I’m worried that won’t be nearly enough to save us from ourselves.
As the latest round of deadly, tornado-birthing storms barreled across our commonwealth, I felt my hope for humanity slacken like never before. The 100 mph winds and warning sirens seemed to be wailing a message of despair into the night. Louisville has hitherto seemed relatively immune to the climate crisis, but three horrific storm systems in a row is enough to make one think, “maybe it really is too late for us?”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change certainly thinks we are already past the point of no return. And over 1,000 scientists from 25 countries joined the chorus as part of the Scientist Rebellion’s demonstrations soon after the release of the IPCC’s latest, most dire report. Are we listening to their pleas? Or are we willing to accept Kentucky as the new Tornado Alley?
Earth Day is just a few years older than I am, and we are both growing weary after decades of struggle to wake people up to the fierce urgency of addressing the climate crisis. I don’t know what it was like for those who organized for the first Earth Day in 1970, but I came of age in a time of confidence that, by working together, we could fix this. And I was eager to do my part.
My awakening came just before the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and just after the release of the 1987 U.N. Brundtland Report, “Our Common Future,” in which the term sustainable development was coined (i.e., “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”). On a cross-country bike trip in 1989, I discovered that another world was possible and learned that car culture was not just expensive and unhealthy and polluting and deadly... but entirely unnecessary.
At 15, I knew that I could get anywhere on a bicycle and so I decided to boycott cars and not get a driver’s license. I never have. Being car-free has liberated me from so much that makes life in America’s car-addicted cities like Louisville such a drag – a lonely, expensive, unhealthy drag. Every time I hop on my bike, I feel like I’m taking control of my life and doing something positive for myself and my community. I know that I’m contributing to the solution and practicing the sustainability that I preach. But I also know that I cannot solve this global crisis on my own.
What worries me about Earth Day is that we will dust off our bikes, strap on our walking shoes and perhaps even hop on a bus on April 22nd, only to get right back behind the wheel again on April 23rd. I fear that our city government and corporations will proudly plant some trees on Friday, only to approve and invest in development plans on Monday that will facilitate the destruction of 150 trees a day in Louisville. I’m afraid that families will flock to zoos and wildlife sanctuaries on Earth Day and then serve their children more animal flesh as soon as they get home.
I get it. It’s hard not to be hypocritical in America. Most of us know what’s right, but we make it far too easy to do wrong. All the incentives, social pressures, infrastructure and economic signals are stacked against those who seek to walk more gently on the Earth. But I could not ignore the planet’s wailing as I cowered in my basement on Wednesday night, and I refuse to let the voices of greed drown her out.
If Friday is Earth Day, then what are all the other days of the year? Perhaps it is time we committed to Unearth Days – i.e., 364 opportunities to unearth the truth about our interdependence; to reveal the myriad solutions to this global crisis that are right under our noses; to dust off our bicycles and our windmills and our solar panels and our shovels and put them to work! I refuse to go quietly into that dark night, and I hope you will find a way to join me in resisting the death sentence that is business-as-usual in the wealthiest nation on Earth. For ideas about ways to resist, explore https://louisville.edu/sustainability/green-tips.
Dr. Justin Mog is Assistant to the Provost for Sustainability Initiatives at the University of Louisville.
Source: Will Kentucky be the new Tornado Alley? How Earth Day issues need everyday solutions: Opinion (Courier-Journal, April 19, 2022)