Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. In 1970 the public’s primary environmental concerns (although that word was hardly common usage) were pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes, oil spills, and misuse of pesticides. Forty years later, the public would be astonished at how much cleaner are industrial and automobile emissions, how rare are reports of oil spills, and not only the prevalence of organic produce and meat, but how safely pesticides are applied and how quickly they disperse from our foods.

But maybe most surprising to Californians in 1970 would be that the leading environmental issue of 2010 is … CO2 emissions. Credit lots of things, but not least is the amazing progress we have made elsewhere: reducing air and water pollution, toxic waste in the ground, and land and habitat acquisition – all while accommodating enormous population and economic growth.

The secret to this success has been the enormous wealth we have created in California over the past four decades, which has allowed us the means to demand ever higher standards of health and safety, and the ability to purchase large tracts of land and habitat for protection of critters and for our aesthetic enjoyment.

So when we celebrate Earth Day, remember to give a shout-out to the innovators and risk takers who have helped create the dynamic private economy that affords us the opportunity for such a celebration.