Earth Day is April 22. We still need a national day to pay tribute to Mother Nature. I grew up overlooking Lake Erie from my second floor bedroom in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cuyahoga River winds its U-shaped way through the heart of downtown, emptying into the lake. We were banned from swimming in Lake Erie for several years because the lake was so polluted our parents were sure we’d get polio if we swam in it. After a storm we would often find hundreds of dead fish rotting on the rocky beach near our home. They died after ingesting industrial contaminants churned up by the storm. The sight and smell of rotting fish is not conducive to sun bathing.
By 1969 I was adjusting to life as a newly wed in Columbus. That fall the Cuyahoga River caught fire. It was a national wake-up call that something had to be done to bring industrial pollution under control. The fire on the Cuyahoga spurred action to pass the 1972 Clean Water Act. Now we are determined to repeal the regulations that protect and preserver our fragile environment. I wish those who think that is a good idea would spend a day on a beach where dead fish rot in the summer sun.
Silent Spring and a Call to Action
Rachel Carson’s 1962 bestseller Silent Spring gave words to the groans of the fragile global eco-system. That, combined with events such as those in Cleveland and other industrial cities, led to the first Earth Day April 22, 1970. The History of Earth Day demonstrates the power we the people have when we know, care, and respond to a critical situation. In 1970 I was working in the public information office of Bowling Green State University, so I was aware of this grass roots efforts.
My experience in Cleveland, combined with the first annual Earth Day, sparked my awareness and concern about environmental issues that has never waned. My first post-raising preschoolers paid position was with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. There I learned about both state and federal efforts to protect and manage our shared natural resources. I also saw first hand the devastating results for Mother Nature when political ambitions mix with unregulated corporate practices, making profit the only consideration.
We Cannot Afford Profits at the Cost of Environment
I once lived in an area of Ohio where strip mining was in full force. We lived a few miles from where strip mining turned the earth upside down in the quest for coal. What had once been beautiful forested hills were now a depressing gray, gooey mass of earth, watered with acid rain run-off. Nothing could grow there. Not until mining companies were made to do so, did they put topsoil back on top of the sites so that eventually nature could take over, giving new life a chance to take root.
While on a vacation in rural Vermont one summer we left our young daughters with a park naturalist while we hiked up the side of a mountain. We slowly made our way through some of the densest forest I’ve ever encountered. We struggled to follow the trail because of all the vines that climbed most of the trees along the path. When we finally found our way back to the nature center the naturalist showed us an album of photos of the area we had just hiked. Some forty years earlier loggers had clear-cut the area. Not a single tree remained. Once people abandoned the area Mother Nature took over. In just one generation the mountain regrew a lush forest.
Manage, Don’t Mutilate Nature
In Australia the Aboriginal people learned how to manage the hot, dry climate. They set periodic small fires to keep the underbrush in forests under control. Driving along rural routes I saw many piles of smoldering vegetation where they were clearing out underbrush. When Europeans showed up they didn’t bother to do that. As a result, when a fire starts the dried out underbrush turns fires into raging infernos which spread rapidly with deadly force.
The earth literally sustains us. We abuse nature to our own demise. When profit is the first, and too often, only priority we care about, we are not just turning the beauty of nature into ugly places no one wants to see. We are destroying our own homes and compromising our futures.
Learn from the Past
I worry that events like polluted Lake Erie and the fire-prone Cuyahoga River are far enough in the past that current leaders are oblivious to the perils they are foisting on us as they unravel one regulation after another.
We cannot win if we pit business profits against sensible environmental regulations. No amount of rise in the stock market can bring back an extinct species. No amount of money in the bank will matter if we have no safe drinking water; if our crops fail for lack of pollination; and super storms destroy our homes year after year.
Earth Day is coming around again soon. Pay attention. Several non-profit groups are working diligently to preserve and protect the fragile eco-systems on which our very lives depend. We don’t have to choose between a healthy eco-system or the modern conveniences we’ve come to expect. We can have both, but we have to be more aware of the enormous footprint our life styles leave on fragile planet earth. We must do better about watching where we step. We must reduce our negative impact on the planet Earth we all call home.