Going Backwards

Does it feel like our history is unspooling before our eyes? Like most in my generation, I grew up before a woman’s right to an abortion was ensured. Friends told me about getting back-street abortions, about the shame and fear they felt. I heard third-hand stories about women using clothes hangers to get rid of unwanted pregnancies. So when Roe V. Wade was decided in 1973, it seemed like the horror stories would end, that the world had finally come to its senses. Instead, the recent Supreme Court decision and the ensuing laws by some states to restrict women’s freedom to make their own decisions set women’s rights back to where we started.

The environmental news is equally depressing. In 1969, I remember the Cuyahoga River in Ohio catching on fire because it was so polluted. In those early days of the environmental movement, we were starting to hear stories about whales becoming extinct because of over-fishing. Eagles were dying because of the overuse of the pesticide DDT.  Those of us who identified ourselves with a new word, “environmentalist,” were overjoyed when President Richard Nixon, not a progressive in anyone’s book, started the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. We thought we were on an upward course to save the Earth, especially when the astronauts took a photo from the moon that showed a dazzling blue planet. After seeing this, how could anyone not want to protect what looked like paradise?

Yet, since then, we’ve suffered worsening environmental damage, especially from climate change, in many cases reversing any gains we made 40 or 50 years ago. Although there have been victories—the outlawing of DDT, certain species of whales returning and rivers less polluted—you only have to look at the dried-up lakes of the West during this unprecedented drought to get that sinking feeling that we are losing the race to save the planet.  

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