Earth Day, 2012

Today is the day formally declared as “Earth Day”, a time designated several years ago as one for the inhabitants of our world, from whatever nation, to contemplate our impact on the globe, environmentally as well as in other ways. Started in the mid 1970’s, at a time when rabid environmentalism and peace marches were the order of the day, Earth Day celebrations have settled down – almost into oblivion,Earth Day, as recognized by the United Nations, is celebrated during the spring equinox. Even more than its corollary in the fall, the spring equinox has been celebrated throughout time. Many old calendars actually number the months from March, using prefixes such as “sept” (seven), “oct” (eight), “nov” (nine) and “dec” (ten, as in decimal) to number months from the start of the year – March. Spring calls to us to honor the renewal of life, new growth, and new hope. What better time to contemplate the renewal of our earth, and our stewardship of its resources?Many communities and organizations celebrate Earth Day with the planting of trees and shrubs, or the general beautification of the area. Given the current water shortage in our area, and the amount of water needed by young plants, that is probably not practical for us! There are other things we can do, not just for today, but to make lifestyle changes that are more “earth friendly”.I can remember my grandparents home. They had a large, concrete incinerator out in the back yard, as did most of their neighbors. Garbage from the house was taken out there and poured in through an opening in the top, then at least once a week, Granddaddy would light it. It would burn for several hours, depending on the trash, emitting a noxious odor the entire time. At least annually, he would open the door on the bottom, then proceed to shovel out the ashes and unburned refuse for burial. For countless years, our societies have disposed of waste in this manner. Looking at it from today’s perspective, however, it really is rather wasteful. The fumes and ash pollute our air, long after we can no longer smell them. It is quite likely that some of the items that were buried are toxic, not to mention spoiling ground for other, future purposes. There is something in even the most energetic of us that seems to be basically lazy. We know that it only takes a moment to separate our trash into glass, metal, paper and other, yet very few in our community are willing to bother. It is really not a problem to place a container in a common spot in an office, and designate it a receptacle for recyclable paper. With the blue dumpsters placed strategically about town, it is a simple matter to properly dispose of newspapers, catalogs, junk mail, shredded documents and other paper goods. Recycling metal and glass take a little longer, but most of us do not generate as much of that type refuse as we do the other! They can be taken to the “drop off center” on Broadway, and placed in the appropriate container. However – even the most avid cooks will probably find that these materials do not accumulate rapidly.In many metropolitan areas, garbage disposal is a serious problem. Land that meets EPA standards for landfills is expensive – and it does fill rapidly. Most other alternatives are expensive, or are impractical when working with large quantities of trash. These communities have imposed mandatory recycling, enforcing it with large fines or even a suspension of trash service. Recycling is like any other habit. It requires a week or two of thought, then becomes second nature.The United States uses more energy per person than any other nation. The graphic of the world from space showing energy consumption has been seen by most of us – our nation is brilliant with lights, while most others are much dimmer. Most of the power generated in this country has serious side effects for the land, air and water. Any time a substance is burned, such as oil, coal or wood, pollutants are sent into the air; hydro-electric power requires a change in the topography of the area, often a change that is regretted many years later. Americans are not going to move willingly to a more austere lifestyle, but we can make little changes. The old recommendations from the Jimmy Carter era are still good. If I remember correctly, they included such basics as turning off appliances and lights (computers? Video games?) when finished with them, adjusting thermostats to a moderate temperature, then wearing more or fewer clothes, as the situation warranted, not pre-heating ovens when cooking, and so forth. Applied in one home, none of these suggestions will make a major difference in the health of our planet. However, we influence more people than we know. A visitor to your office, seeing the “recycle box” may decide to start one for his office, also. A visitor in your home, seeing you deposit a soft drink can into a separate trash can, may realize how simple it is, and start recycling, also. Despite my field of study as an undergraduate, and periodic association (not normally by choice) with the Sierra Club, I am not ready to advocate the closing down or impeding of the industries that keep us alive in the hopes that we can curtail pollution. What I can and do advocate is that each of us make a point to do what we can to help the situation. There is an old belief that, where there is no vision, people perish; where there is vision, people prosper. We can each do our part towards a more stable environment for our planet, and, with each doing a little, the vision of a clean planet may one day be a reality.Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to