I too an an optimist.. How well we are doing depends on the “we” (our neighborhood, county, state, nation, world), the topic, and the timeframe, you choose to examine. Some things are getting worse. Some are getting better. Some goods and bads are intrinsically linked.. e.g. more people outdoors mean more environmental impacts from recreation. Everything people do has some kind of impact, but generally we (the US and many others) are more conscious and more careful than when Earth Day began.
EMIGRANT, Mont.—It is Earth Day, and as I write this, I am facing out across the vast Yellowstone River Valley at mountains so brilliantly beautiful, you’d swear God deserves a raise. At night, it can be hard to decipher the major constellations through the veil of a billion other stars. Life here is indelibly entwined with the environment—abundant wildlife, fresh snow-fed waters, and clean, cool mountain air.
Earth Day is often a time for Malthusian, apocalyptic speeches on the dire state of the planet and imminent exhaustion of our natural resources due to rapid growth and human overpopulation. But for me, as a conservation optimist, Earth Day is a moment to celebrate the gains of conservation and the natural world.
Since the first Earth Day in 1970, the population of America has swelled by 120 million people. Gross domestic product has increased from just under $2 trillion to nearly $20 trillion. The traditional Earth Day view is to see growth and conservation in conflict: As our country grows, the state of the environment declines. And yet, counter to what might intuitively seem true, we are finding ways to conserve and score significant improvements to our environment.
You don’t have to agree with the timeframe nor topics Yablonski picked, but I think one thing he said is worth repeating:
And finally, while federal conservation measures often attract the headlines, we can’t overlook the work of the unsung state and local conservation managers, hunters and anglers, and private working landowners—farmers, ranchers, foresters—who manage most of the habitat in this nation.
Those folks seldom get a shout-out, and this seems like a good time to do so.
Yablonski ends with:
No doubt, we still face significant conservation challenges, but in the century since T.R. spoke those words, we’ve written a conservation story worth telling this Earth Day. I am optimistic about our environment and the ability of humankind to invent, collaborate, and innovate our way to conservation solutions. For the doubters and worriers, there’s one more reason to stop and smile at the state of our environment: Optimists live longer. And that means more time for all of us to enjoy our natural world.
If you’re interested in a link to some of these studies (on health and optimism), here’s one from the Guardian.