Yesterday marked the 49th edition of Earth Day, an event founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin after he’d seen the impact of a massive oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast.
His idea was to present a “national teach-in on the environment” that would raise public awareness to the point that it would prompt citizens to demand action on the part of government officials. The timing of the first event was selected because it fell between spring break and final exams, enabling the people most likely to speak out on the issue — college students — to mobilize.
It worked, and ever since, Earth Day has taken place on April 22.
Back then, various types of pollution were the primary focus of Earth Day. Factories spewing smoke and various carcinogens into the sky… gas-guzzling automobiles transforming city skylines into smoggy blurs… and off-shore oil spills polluting beaches, killing fish and turning the wings of birds into gooey messes.
Today, Earth Day still focuses on those types of issues, but now its primary focus has become their impact — primarily, global warming.
While global warming has become a political hot-button issue, you’ll find most grape growers and winemakers on the side of the believers. That’s because each variety of wine grape has a particular climate — or terroir, as the French like to call it — within which it thrives, producing the most expressive grapes.
If the climate becomes too hot in a specific area — and “too hot” can be defined as an increase of just a few degrees, depending on the variety — it could require switching to different grape varieties or abandoning grape growing altogether.
Switching varieties could be problematic in countries where specific varieties have long been associated with specific appellations. In France, for instance, only designated varieties are allowed to be grown and used in the cuvees of given appellations.
Looking to the future, it’s likely that countries which dictate specific varieties for specific appellations will need to relax their regulations, grape growers will need to replant certain areas with more heat-resistant varieties, and plantings of cool-weather varieties will move closer and closer to large bodies of water.
The best solution for everyone would be to find ways to get rising air temperatures under control. But that requires a political solution, which means it probably won’t come anytime soon.
Perhaps the 50th edition of Earth Day next April will help re-focus Senator Nelson’s early vision for protecting the environment. That would be an outcome worth toasting.