"Building a sustainable society is the critical challenge of this century. Everything depends on it." -- Senator Gaylord Nelson, Founder, Earth Day.
On April 22, 1970, the environmental movement was born, a by-product of the idealistic decade of the sixties. Organized by hippies and eco-freaks, Earth Day was just another passing fad. Or so many thought.
But 32 Earth Days later, the environmental movement is here to stay. Today even power, mining, and timber companies resort to "green" advertising. Oil spills, toxic wastes, polluted beaches and rivers, yellow air, acid mine drainage, mountain top removal, mine subsidence, and overflowing landfills compel universal attention. In one way or another we are all touched by the poisoning of the planet.
Yet a long parade of congressmen, senators, and presidents has failed to comprehend that our nation is built upon air, water, soil, forests, grasslands, minerals, oceans, and plant and animal diversity and that these resources are essential to long-term security. We cannot forever deplete, pollute, and despoil our natural treasures and expect to maintain a sustainable society. Someday a group of courageous leaders will lead us to a sustainable future. Until that day, here are some specific acts that each of us can each do to improve the health of plant Earth. You've no doubt heard it all before, but sustainability begins with each of us.
1. Reduce, reuse, recycle. It's a mantra among school children, but many adults have yet to catch on. Start with aluminum cans. Then expand to glass, paper, and plastics. Recycled products require far less raw materials and energy to produce than new products.
2. Precycle. Reduce waste before you buy. Buy goods packaged in recycled, recyclable, or biodegradable containers. For example, buy eggs in cardboard, not Styrofoam, containers. Buy vegetables loose instead of in prepackaged plastic bags. Packaging makes up about 30 percent of our waste and about 10 percent of our grocery bills.
3. Plant a tree each year for each member of the family. An average American "consumes" seven trees annually in the form of wood and paper products. Consider planting a tree an annual user fee for your time on the planet.
4. Install water saver faucets on all your home's sinks and shower heads. This simple, inexpensive act can cut water use up to 50 percent. If you use city water, that means a lower water bill. And if you depend on a well, consider installing a cistern to collect rain water to use for bathing and flushing commodes. Few things offend me more than flushing pure ground water down the toilet.
5. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. They cost more than incandescent bulbs, but they last ten times longer and use one-quarter of the energy of an incandescent bulb that generates the same amount of light.
6. Snip all the loops in plastic six-pack holders before you recycle them. A bird can get one loop around its neck and catch another loop on another object and strangle. A simple ten second ritual can save wildlife from cruel and preventable deaths.
7. Fishermen, never discard used monofilament line along a stream or lake. And if you see a guide do it, chastise him, and report him. Birds and other wildlife get tangled in it and die.
8. Organizers of major outdoor events -- resist the urge to release thousands of helium-filled balloons to commemorate special events. They can travel hundreds of miles in just a few days and land in bodies of water where they are ingested by fish, sea turtles, and whales. Balloons can disrupt animals' digestive and respiratory systems and claim innocent victims -- all for 30 seconds of rah-rah fun and excitement.
9. Join conservation and/or land trust organizations and contribute generously.
10. Write letters. Make phone calls. Be persistent. Our children and grandchildren deserve no less.
And if you get discouraged, remember these two thoughts:
U"In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy." -- John C. Sawhill
U"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -- Margaret Mead