Did you know that Earth Day was first officially observed throughout the United States in 1970? Thanks to Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, more than 20 million Americans organized massive rallies and demonstrations for a healthier, sustainable environment, protesting against massive oil spills, industrial pollution, and the loss of wilderness areas in what would become an annual tradition across the world. So where are we on Earth Day 2008 — 38 years later?
It seems safe to say that awareness of environmental issues has become much more widespread today — things like recycling and conserving energy are second nature to us now in a way that would have been quite novel just a few years ago. And over the years, POV has showcased a number of docs — including The Chances of the World Changing (POV 2007), Maquilapolis: City of Factories (POV 2006), and In the Light of Reverence (POV 2001), featuring different angles on environmental issues, from conservation to land use to consumption — in addition to our Borders | Environment site, which looks at the way we interact with the earth, air, and water around us.
Last week, President Bush said the U.S. was on track to meet its goals on global warming. I came across an interesting Bloggingheads debate reacting to his speech on the New York Times site, in which Heather Hulbert and Eric Posner discuss whether politicians can effectively encourage Americans to “go green.” Their conversation brings up some issues about the role of politicians in shaping both public opinion and public policy. I think it’s clear that overall, the environment is one of the issues on which voters want to know where their candidates stand (see the Pew Forum on Religion & Life’s summary of each candidate’s position). But how much do we — as citizens and consumers — want our government to dictate how we “go green”? Should we have more government intervention in the form of new policies? Is it possible to stem the tide of global warming if the government doesn’t get more involved?
This year, POV’s Why Vote? site is dedicated to exploring the issues that matter most to citizens during this election year. What issues are you most passionate about? Is it the environment? The need for better monitoring of polling centers on election day? Campaign issues? Or maybe immigration and border issues? We’d love to hear from you — so grab a video camera and start shooting, and we may feature your video on the Why Vote? site. And if you submit a proposal through the WGBH Lab Open Call, your idea for a short film may even be eligible for some cash for development and the opportunity to have the finished video aired along with a POV broadcast this summer.
What are you waiting for? Tell us what candidates have to do to get your vote and send it in.