The first Earth Day was celebrated 44 years ago and, depending on your perspective, we have either made great strides in protecting our environment or have failed miserably.

Actually, there is truth to be found in both camps but, more importantly, there is still a lot of work to be done.

While there are shining examples all over the world of innovative energy alternatives, community-driven environmental initiatives and successful recovery efforts at toxic spill sites, according to most scientists, Earth's long-term prognosis is still grim.

Today, all but a handful of stubborn holdouts acknowledge that human activity has triggered global climate change. Still, efforts to pinpoint and reduce specific pollutants are slow and prone to being politicized -- especially when vested financial interests are threatened.

The raging debate over climate change is particularly pronounced in Utah, where citizens of every political stripe are passionate about the stunning landscape but differ in their approach to protecting it. Taken to the extreme, the debate boils down to public versus private control of the vast open spaces where some see rich grazing and mineral resources and others see national parks and protected wilderness areas. The armed confrontation between rancher Cliven Bundy and federal officials last week is a dramatic example of the emotional conflict.


Advertisement

Environmental issues will also be on the table at the two state political conventions this weekend where a wide spectrum of political hopefuls will be vying for state and federal spots on November's ballot. On the Republican side, in particular, almost every incumbent is facing a challenger from the far right, where climate change is considered a myth and support for environmental regulation is tantamount to treason.

Unfortunately, due to the state's arcane caucus system and its lopsided partisan makeup, regular citizens may not realize that if the extremists topple the moderates on Saturday, November's Republican ticket could signal a major setback for environmental interests for years to come at the state legislature and in Congress.

Perhaps the best way to celebrate Earth Day this year is to make sure you are registered to vote. Then pay close attention to the candidates and who is contributing to their war chests during the campaign.

It is estimated that 20 million people participated in the first Earth Day and more than a billion have joined in the last 40 years. But judging by the rhetoric, the political climate and the global climate are still heating up.