Earth Day as a Black Swan

In my view, the political consequences of Earth Day — all the new laws intended to clean up the environment — was just for starters. Much more importantly, Earth Day was a “black swan” — that is, a totally unexpected event that changed everything, and did so permanently. Thus Earth Day was full of portents for the planet and for the people living on it. These portents transformed society in all fundamental ways: social, cultural, economic, intellectual, moral, and religious.

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Here are some of the portents that Earth Day signified, harbingers of constructive change that have in many ways been realized:

  • The emergence of green consumerism and the rise of whole new industries to meet its demands: pollution control, energy efficiency, renewable energy, organic agriculture, green building, alternative forms of transportation, eco-tourism, and so on;
  • A huge boost for traditional conservation concerns: parks and outdoor recreation, preservation of wildlife and wilderness;
  • The introduction of new moral concepts into society — the idea that animals have rights; that trees have rights;
  • The manifestation of new knowledge in the professions and intellectual disciplines — environmental law, environmental education, environmental health, environmental science, environmental engineering, environmental economics, and so on.
  • A deep-seated generational change in the social values of young people. The baby boomers who experienced Earth Day in 1970 went on to became the parents of a generation even more fiercely committed to the environmental cause: the millennials.

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An Emancipation Proclamation for Nature

When the issue of slavery was being debated in America, slave owners argued passionately that the institution was so essential to the economy that abolishing it would cause economic collapse. But the abolitionists simply refused to admit the legitimacy of economic arguments. They argued that the blatant immorality of slavery outweighed economic concerns. They fought on the high ground of morality where slave owners had no foothold.

Today, industrial polluters argue that environmental protection will bring about economic ruin. But, unlike the abolitionists, environmentalists have often forsaken the high ground and, instead, they’ve waded into intellectual quicksand to fight with polluters over economic and scientific “facts.”

This is a mistake. I argue that the sacredness of natural creation is wholly sufficient to justify its protection. Morality comes first. Economic aims should be bent to this cause, and they can be.

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Martin Luther, My Kind of Guy

The Protestant Reformation brought about a fundamental revolution in how individuals saw themselves in relation to the God the Creator. For thousands of years the Catholic Church had taught that individuals could relate to God only through the medium of the church and its priesthood. Otherwise, the poor wretches were doomed to burn in Hell.

Then along came Martin Luther to denounce this teaching. Luther claimed that the Bible — God’s Word — was the medium through which individuals could relate to the Creator. They needed neither the church nor its priests.

Revolutions don’t get any more fundamental than that, do they?

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