For the beauty of the Earth
I was an activity organizer for the first Earth Day in 1970. That was forty nine years ago. I was naive. I had assumed that if people knew the extent of harmful pollutants in the waterways and atmosphere they would do something.
Country roads were being used as dumpsites. Trash and litter was everywhere, spoiling the landscape. I didn’t think (or know much) about toxic chemicals leaching out of back road dump sites and curbside debris. Discarded engine parts, old appliances, broken glass and construction waste was just an ugly mess. Something I didn’t want to see while enjoying any natural surroundings. It seemed to me that it was just a matter of raising awareness. It seemed so simple. Organize clean-up activities of beaches, shorelines, stream sides and hiking trails. Notify and involve the city in removing known unregistered dump sites. Start a publicity campaign for pride of place. Educate people that their rubbish does not just dissolve away in a week or two or even a year. Clean up the mess, dispose of trash in the proper place, compare the beauty of cleanliness to that of previous slovenly behavior and the problem would be solved. Shurely people could see that. Shurely people would participate. It seemed so simple. I was naive.
On December 7, 1972 the astronaut crew aboard Apollo 17 took photographs of the Earth as they left the atmosphere of the planet. NASA subsequently published the now famous “Blue Marble” photograph. It changed everything about my world view. This tiny blue marble travelling through the vast darkness of space encompassed all that was known to man. All of our joys and sorrows, our lives and the lives of all the animals, all of the mountains and forests, all of the plants, all of the deserts, all of the streams and rivers, all of the oceans and fish of the sea, all of the birds that flew overhead, all cohabiting a tiny blue dot in the heavens. That photograph was a whole new perspective for me.
At that time new words like ecology and sustainability were entering the language. Concepts of the greater environment, habitat, the finite supply of resources and the interconnectivity of natural systems and all the species with which we share the Earth were new studies. We needed to observe a big picture of a small planet. We needed to learn the consequences of human activity. We needed to learn that we are all one.
There were 3 million gallons of oil leaked into California’s Santa Barbara Channel in 1969. The same year the Cuyahoga River in Ohio became so polluted that it caught on fire. The following year the first Earth Day was organized and observed April, 22, 1970.
During the early 1970s lakes in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York were discovered to be devoid of fish. The reason, acid rain. Fish catch along the Atlantic coast was reported to be declining and well below historic levels. 1986 saw the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster and three years later the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Reading the reports, learning the facts, it was easy to point the finger at industry for destroying the environment. Extractive industries in particular. I knew first hand the effects of mining operations and clear cutting of forests. It was not just those however, The clothing industry, the automobile industry, pharmaceutical companies, farming operations, all used chemicals that were dumped in waterways, disposed of into soils and discharged in the atmosphere. It was easy to point a finger at industries that put profits before the health of its workers and the community at large. In time I came to realize that these same industries provided employment, paid taxes, supported the economy, provided goods and commodities to manufacturers and supplied merchandise to the public. For modern society to exist a heavy burden has been placed on the environment.
The issues are complicated and complex. They have become more so in recent years. Are there solutions? I believe there are. One thing that is needed is for the general population (and elected officials) to have a broader understanding of the dynamic systems at work in the atmosphere, geosphere and hydrosphere. When these natural systems are disrupted the effects are experienced globally. To understand this, education is the answer and that begins in the classrooms of our youth. Another possible alternative to confront threats to the environment is to limit the influence of political action committees. In particular corporate special interests. When the coffers of legislators are stuffed with hundreds of thousands of dollars over and over again by corporate interests the outcome of a vote on any restrictive laws is a foregone conclusion.
These are just a few thoughts, there are many different approaches to address degradation of the planet and there are many wonderful organizations that you can join or support. We can all take a part, there is a place for everyone.
“I think that 1970 will be known as the year of the beginning, in which we really began to move on the problems of clean air and clean water and open spaces for the future generations of America”. President Richard Nixon on December 31, 1970
1970 was a start. Strides and setbacks have occured in the past 49 years. What happens in the next 49 years will have a global impact that will last for centuries but I’ve found that people don’t always act in their own best interests or that of the community. It’s a curious thing. Meanwhile…..
For the Earth, Dohn