Friday, April 26, 2013

Happy Arbor Day!

In the last blog post I indicated how depressing it can be to think about the negative impacts of humans on the planet. For anyone that cares about the environment, a cleaner planet, human survival, etc., it can be hard to see that the proverbial glass is half full rather than half empty. Indeed, there are times when I can be drawn into a nihilistic conversations, leading to the thought that we might as well enjoy our exploitation of the earth all we can since our species is doomed at some point anyhow.  Yuck! Now that is depressing. So I try not to go there. Or at least try not to stay there. Instead I try to remind myself of the many successes we’ve had in the environmental movement and to look for positive trends and indicators.

The polluted Cuyahoga River 1970

One of the primary reasons I have hope is that a LOT has happened since the first Earth Day was held just 43 years ago. At that time, the amount of pollution, toxic waste, trash-lined-roads, smog, and other degradation was incredible. The Cuyahoga River near Cleveland Ohio was so polluted with oily chemicals that it caught on fire. Something obviously had to be done. Many of the common goals of early environmentalism such as reducing pollution, cleaning up rivers, preserving natural areas, saving threatened species, etc. were embraced not just by the “hippies” and “tree huggers” but by many throughout mainstream America. Today, except for a few on the right-wing fringe, they have since become almost universally accepted as important human endeavors. Here are a few other examples that give me hope:

·         The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created in 1970 by a Republican President (Nixon)! Perhaps no other governmental action has done more for the environment.
·         Several efforts like the Endangered Species Act of 1973, have helped shine the light on endangered plants and animals. Major successes in preservation have included the American bison, gray wolf, grizzly bear, bald eagle, and brown pelican to name a few.
·         The world came together to address ozone depletion and to ban chlorofluorocarbons.
·         The Clean Water Act (1972) and Clean Air Act (1963) have made our air and waters safer and cleaner.
·         The Superfund program has helped clean up hundreds of toxic waste sites across the country.
·         More than 100,000 areas representing nearly 12% of the earth’s land mass have been protected as parks and preserves across the globe.
·         Many of the worst chemical pesticides, including DDT, have been banned or significantly restricted. The EPA now makes it much harder for new chemical poisons to be approved for use.
·         Recycling is now ubiquitous in most modern societies across the globe. The amount of materials recycled every year continues to grow dramatically, reducing landfill trash.
·         The output of clean and renewable energy is increasing rapidly and has reached nearly 12% of total US production and is growing even more rapidly in Europe and Asia. A foreseeable future without reliance on fossil fuels is almost guaranteed.
·         Societal awareness of the need for healthy eating and other factors have led to the local food movement including community gardens, community supported agriculture and a return to more backyard vegetable growing.
·         The general advancement of science and our improved understanding of how the natural world and ecological processes work.
·         The establishment of many environmental organizations across the globe including Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society, Keep America Beautiful, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, The Xerces Society. Perhaps even more importantly are the many thousands that exist on the local level.
·         Others: reduced acid rain, the banning of asbestos, emission limits on mercury, banning of leaded gasoline, fuel economy standards, etc.
As I prepared to write this blog, I quizzed a few of my friends and cohorts about this subject. I’m happy to report that everyone I talked to is also able to retain a hopeful view of the future. Although many of us preach to or a part of the environmental “choir”, we all sense that nearly everyone we interact with wants a better future for the environment and our planet. It starts with awareness, and at least that part seems to be on the right track. So, yes, we’re hopeful. What other choice do we have?
I had intended to offer some simple suggestions that nearly anyone can adopt to help the environment. However, I’ve ran on too long with this diatribe so the big list will have to wait. But on this day that we celebrate Arbor Day in Nebraska I can offer a very simple suggestion that many people can do to help the environment: plant a tree.

Happy Arbor Day!
Waverly Arbor Day 2012


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