This Thankful Thursday is also Earth Day, so I’m thankful for that!
Earth Day is a pseudo-holiday begun in 1970 to celebrate nature and a healthy environment. As one correspondent on a news show this morning pointed out, that was not long after the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland caught fire, so polluted was it, and less than two decades after a killer smog – from a weather phenomenon that kept coal-burning fumes from rising and dissipating quickly – caused approximately 4000 deaths in London. People were beginning to become aware of the importance of nature, and that keeping our surroundings clean and healthy wasn’t merely cosmetically pleasing…it was essential for our own well-being.
Somehow I’ve always been an environmentalist. As a small child, my family watched a lot of nature shows, and I was fascinated by the animals, and the exotic landscapes they showed. The rain forests, the African savannahs, and even the equally impressive ones closer to home, from the Rockies and Florida ‘glades to the vibrant fall forests I lived close to. We had a bird feeder and I spent many a chilly, snowy winter afternoon watching the comings and goings of a rainbow-array of birds having a meal. My brother was a Boy Scout and one of their community works back then was a “paper drive.” They’d be driven around in pickups or on flatbeds and pick up bundles of newspapers people would leave out for recycling. I was too young to take part, but I admired their efforts. Seemed obvious to me – if all these tons of paper could be recycled and re-used, a lot fewer trees would have to be cut down. In turn, more homes for the birds and bears, and (as I’d learn by maybe grade 5) a lot more oxygen being put back into our air. I was exceptionally happy when the city took over and began collecting paper as well as plastics and metals from everyone for recycling and to this day, I’m the one who is the household “nag”, collecting and rinsing out the empty pop and beer cans, tearing the contact info off the many (too many!) mail order catalogs we keep getting and putting the rest of them into the blue bin, making sure it’s out on the curbside on the right day. Seems like a tiny effort to me, which if duplicated in even half the households of our community, would make a huge difference for the better.
The best, but also most frustrating job I ever had was one I started as a summer job during my college years and carried over for a year or two afterwards, working for a governmental agency responsible for a range of environmental issues ranging from local parks to floodplain mapping and protection of rare plants and animals. It was a fun and interesting job, and over the years I talked to thousands of people of all ages, led tours, pointed out wildlife, interesting edible plants they’d never heard of. I hope something I said or showed at least made an impact on a handful of people and generated seeds that grew into concerned environmentally-aware adults. I conducted biological studies of wild areas near the city and worked on a photo catalog of them. It was a fun and, I felt, beneficial job. The frustration came from the fact that it was governmental and our input on behalf of the environment often became outweighed by commercial, economic influences.
Rivers aren’t catching fire these days, thankfully, and if poor air quality is making people ill or causing asthma, at least we aren’t seeing hundreds per day drop dead from it in big cities. Yet, for that our world isn’t in much better shape than it was on the first Earth Day. There are more of us people and we’re creating more garbage than ever, importing more and more problematic invasive species (everything from fast-growing weeds to hornets to wild pigs) into new areas they don’t belong and seem hellbent on converting the Amazon rain forest into the world’s largest cattle ranch regardless of the consequences for the atmosphere, wildlife or native populations of the area. So we still mark ‘Earth Day.’
Way I see it, this is the only world we have. We hear stories about how life might be possible on Mars, if we find ways to move huge populations there quickly, and build artificial domes and find ways to pump in nitrogen and oxygen and on and on. But for me, I don’t think I’d want to live in an area without trees, flowers, wildlife, living in an artificial climate relying on machinery to allow us to breathe and bring us food from other planets. Seems like putting the money and effort needed to do that would be spent better on keeping this little planet inhabitable. So, I’m thankful for Earth and therefore thankful too for Earth Day.