AT the turn of the century, the relationship between man and nature was a question of land use. An inexhaustible continent had been tamed, and Americans began to value all things wild. National parks and forests were created. Decades later, Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, and others recognized that when human activity damaged the environment, man himself was endangered.
This awareness culminated in Earth Day 1970. Citing the 1969 Santa Barbara offshore oil spill and Cleveland's burning Cuyahoga River, environmentalists pulled the nation together for a day of protest.
Earth Day convinced Washington that the environmental movement had come of age. In the years following, the Clean Air Act and Coastal Zone Management Act were passed. And the Environmental Protection Agency was established.
This Sunday marks Earth Day's 20th anniversary, and, again, the environmental movement will host a day of protests and awareness. But now, environmental issues demand a global, not just a national, response.
The freeing of Eastern Europe has exposed communism's legacy of sulfuric smog and vast open-pit coal mines. Rain forests are being wiped out from Brazil to Ghana. In the US, most major cities have decrepit sewer treatment systems.
As tensions throughout East Europe continue to ease and the cold war is put on ice, the world's environmental concerns are mounting. And there now is near universal agreement that the arms buildup of the past four decades not only is needless, but pass'e. The time is ripe for a shifting of priorities. What better time than the 20th anniversary of Earth Day for the world's industrialized nations to commit themselves to a shift from funding arms expenditures to financing a global cleanup?
As the Monitor's Earth Day series of this week indicates, the tasks ahead are monumental.
The goal must be to prevent environmental degradation, not merely to adjust to it. The success of Earth Day 1990 will depend on whether the international community recognizes this goal and acts to attain it.