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Indiana Environmental Pioneers Reflect On the 50th Earth Day

Photos courtesy of Indiana University, Earth Charter Indiana, and Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority

Wednesday is the 50th Earth Day. To mark the occasion, the Hoosier Environmental Council hosted a roundtable discussion with three environmental pioneers who once worked at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. 

They say we’ve come a long way to protect the Earth, but there’s still a long way to go.

Rosemary Spalding once served as legal counsel for IDEM and is now the board president of Earth Charter Indiana. She says back in the 1960s, you could see the pollution.

“Rivers on fire. L.A. was choked. There were buried drums of waste in neighborhoods — and people just rose up and said, ‘We’ve had enough of this,'" she says.

Spalding says now, environmental activism is more challenging because you’re fighting against things that are less visible — like child lead poisoning — or things that seem more far away — like climate change.

Panelists say there are also several environmental lessons we can take away from the COVID-19 pandemic. Former IDEM commissioner Lori Kaplan says after the pandemic is over, we’re likely to see businesses use technology more often rather than have their workers drive or fly.

“And as long as we have more telecommuting, that will have a positive impact on air quality,” she says.

Spalding says the pandemic has also shown that denying the existence of a global problem — or delaying action on it — can be dangerous.

The panelists say Indiana needs to create a climate action plan and work with local governments to combat climate change instead of against them.

Janet McCabe is director of the Indiana Environmental Resilience Institute at Indiana University and has worked for both IDEM and the Environmental Protection Agency in the past. She says the institute recently partnered with 14 cities and towns in the state to help them create greenhouse gas inventories— including mayors in conservative and rural areas.

McCabe says that shows that taking climate action does not have to be divisive — it can also have economic benefits for these cities. 

They also say the state needs to consider the ramifications of continuing to site large industrial polluters in low-income communities and communities of color — as well as protections for communities already experiencing those issues. 

Contact Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.

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