April 22nd, 2017 marks the 47th anniversary of Earth Day and the birth of the modern environmental movement. Before 1970, mainstream America was generally oblivious to the ill-effects of pollution and environmental degradation. The first Earth Day brought much needed energy to the need for an awareness of the link between a healthy environment and public health.
The founder of Earth Day is Gaylord Nelson, a then U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. He was motivated by having personally witnessed an enormous oil spill in Santa Barbara and was also encouraged by the effectiveness of the ongoing student anti-war movement. Selecting a date between spring break and final exams, he hoped he could harness the vitality of youth to help drive an environmental consciousness to the American public as well as the national political agenda.
On April 22,1970, the first Earth Day, 20 million Americans participated in active demonstrations across the country. Colleges and universities organized demonstrations joining other groups who had historically protested against all sorts of environmental concerns; wilderness protection, clean air, polluting power plants and factories, toxic spills and the general deterioration of the environment. The differing factions found they shared common principals and a movement was borne. By the end of 1970, the United States Environmental Protection Agency was initiated and the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts were passed.
Today, while so much more is known and there is a much wider awareness and acceptance of environmental concerns, issues continue to mount. Personally, I often feel overwhelmed by the massive challenges facing our planet. How can I make a difference? What can 1 person do?
The answer is actually very simple… you can do what you can do.
The last thing I ever want to do is to project my ideals and ethics on those with opposing opinions, but if benefits can be achieved by all, then everyone can celebrate in the rewards.
Every individual has to make their personal decisions on what they feel is appropriate and fitting for their environmental consciousness, but let me make my case for a few activities and/or alternatives that may be of mutual benefit to you and the earth.
Increase Organic Gardening Methods
With or without going wholly organic, any efforts you make can make a positive difference on the environment and you will also gain the benefit of increased garden performance. Simply by changing to organic fertilizers you will be building your garden soils and creating a better overall environment for your plants to grow.
Many garden pest issues can be left untreated and most others can be easily treated with organic solutions. For the few situations that may require a traditional pesticide application, specifically targeted treatments to localized problems are far more environmentally friendly than wide-spread remedies.
Building a sustainable landscape
Lessening the necessary inputs to a landscape saves time, money and is a benefit to the environment. Easy examples are utilizing groundcover plantings in place of open mulch beds, wildflower meadows to replace large tracts of lawn and proper preparation of soils to better support a water wise landscape. Plant selection can also play a large roll in a more sustainable landscape. By choosing native plants and/or resistant selections you can lessen the need for trimming, enjoy a much longer landscape life span all while using less: less water, less pesticides and less fertilizer.
Trees are the answer
You may have seen this industry inspired bumper sticker that says it all. Trees do so much that we all take for granted. We all know that trees (and all plants) sequester carbon dioxide and provide us with oxygen, but they do so much more. In urban environments, trees clean dust and pollution for the air as well as providing overall cooling by shading surface areas with their leafy canopies. Mature trees can cool our homes in summer and protect us from chilling winter winds. All trees protect the earth from global warming, provide habitat and food for wildlife as well as adding beauty to our lives. Trees are the answer and planting them is like feeding the Earth with healthy, organic vitamins.
Again, most everyone participates in some sort of recycling program and every bit we do makes a difference. Provided you have the space, compost your yard waste and keep organic materials out of our landfills.
Reduce the use of disposable plastics
Our disposable society has lost sight of our over-use of plastics and it is nearly impossible to eliminate their use entirely but we can make small changes that have big benefits. Utilize thermal bottles instead of bottled water, glass containers instead of plastic and cloth grocery bags. By selecting products that do not use excessive plastic packaging your environmental opinion is expressed with manufacturers and retailers alike.
Local business and local people care more about your local environment and community. As able, consume food while in season avoiding “food miles” from distant regions. Patronize restaurants that source their food locally and shop in local stores that support your schools, your churches and non-profit organizations.
Earth Day and environmental protection is a more contested subject now than ever before. The polarization of political ideologies has, in many cases, overshadowed what should be considered common sense approaches to issues. We all want clean water, we all want clean air and we all want a healthy environment. Not everyone will ever agree on what all should be done, but instead of rallying against someone who is doing what we think is wrong, let’s all do what we think is right to preserve, to protect and to enhance our environment.
Whatever you choose to do, Mother Earth appreciates your efforts.
Now go outside and have fun in the dirt.