April is the first full month of spring, and although like last year, it has been an unusual year seasonally — the signs of spring are everywhere. The April 1 snowfall, beautiful as it was, did not seem to bother the wild grape hyacinths, the crocuses, the daffodils or the tulips growing in my yard. Nature’s April Fool’s joke did not seem to bother the robins, the morning doves, the cardinals, the blue jays, or even the wrens that seem to annually make their home in my neighborhood.
Since 1970, April is also the month we celebrate Earth Day. Earth Day had its beginnings in 1970 — part of the growing awareness of the finite nature of our planet and the concern for the depletion of natural resources.
The first Earth Day was held Wednesday, April 22, 1970. It included an environmental teach-in that the organizers hoped would help to educate Americans about environmental and conservation issues.
I remember the occasion well. I was a sophomore at The Ohio State University. I had grown up on a farm in rural Shelby County, and conservation was a topic that was near and dear to my heart. My father used any number of conservation practices long before they were adopted by other farmers. So becoming involved in that first Earth Day was something that I saw as being a natural thing to do.
That first Earth Day activated a bipartisan spirit that motivated the passing of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. A host of other environmental laws soon followed.
Those laws included the establishment of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Born in the wake of elevated concern about environmental pollution, USEPA was established on Dec. 2, 1970. The intent of Congress was to consolidate into one agency a variety of federal research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities.
While there are sound arguments that the USEPA has exceeded its authority in a host of areas, and some argue that it is the worst of the federal agencies (i.e., Hendrickson, Mark. The EPA: The Worst Of Many Rogue Federal Agencies; Forbes magazine, March 14, 2013; Sanjour, William. What’s Wrong with the EPA? Sierra magazine, September/October, 1992; Miller, Henry. Time to Get Rid of the EPA? Scott Pruitt May Be Just the Guy to Do It. The National Review, Dec. 20, 2016; and, numerous other articles), it is clear that the agency should be given some credit for improving the country’s environment. I’ll mention just a couple: 1) cleaner air; and, 2) cleaner water.
I’ll begin with cleaner air. We’ve all seen the stories of the tremendous smog that hovers for days over most major Chinese cities. Most of those reading this article will likely remember the concern for the health of athletes who traveled to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics.
Most readers will not remember that in 1948, spectators attending a football game in Donora, Pennsylvania, couldn’t see the players or the ball because of the smog from a nearby coal-fired zinc smelter. Twenty people died as a direct result of the smog.
In Los Angeles in the 1960s, smog often hid the mountains. Additionally, there was the now famous 1966 Thanksgiving weekend smog that caused a major health crisis in New York City. Least we forget how far we’ve come in improving environmental quality in this country; it is important to remember where we’ve been.
I’ll spend just a few sentences on the progress that has been made toward cleaner water. We need look no further than Cleveland where the Cuyahoga River caught fire — perhaps most famously on June 22, 1969. The event was fodder for the late night talk show hosts for years after, and Cleveland was derisively referred to as the “Mistake on the Lake.” What most readers won’t remember is that the river had caught fire previously — a total of thirteen times — the first time in 1868.
The area has since been restored, and in 2000, was made a national park. The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a refuge for native plants and wildlife, and provides routes of discovery for visitors. The winding Cuyahoga River gives way to deep forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands, proving that with some help, Mother Nature has tremendous restorative powers.
There are any number of projects that families can undertake this year to celebrate Earth Day. An easy project is to plant a tree, and some suggest planting a tree for each member of the family. If you join the Arbor Day Foundation, they will send you free trees. Seedlings are also available from the local US Soil and Water Conservation office.
If you are not currently recycling, call Republic Services and ask for a container. Statistics would indicate that while Americans recycle more 60 percent of the paper and cardboard products they use, they recycle less than 10 percent of the plastic used.
Unfortunately, plastics are not biodegradable. In addition to the fact that it is estimated that they take more than 1,000 years to finally break down, they are a serious danger to birds, fish and marine mammals. Because plastic can be mistaken for food, thousands of creatures die each year after swallowing or choking on discarded plastics.
In addition, American throw away nearly 85 percent of their used clothing. I would encourage you to donate used clothing, furniture and kitchen appliances to one of the many charities that provide the items free or at a low or moderate cost to those less fortunate.
You may also help by simply walking to the store, the library, or church. With the weather getting warmer, it is a good time to park your car and use your legs. It’s good for your health. It’s also good for the environment.
Purchasing a compost bin or building your own is another way to help reduce the amount of waste to a usable product. Grass, leaves, twigs and other plant matter can easily be composted. In addition, food can be composted and recycled into natural fertilizer for your yard — and Americans throw away 38,000,000,000 tons of food each year.
You could also purchase a rain barrel and capture rainwater that can be used for watering the plants in your yard. I have a neighbor who has successfully done that for a couple of years, and it works well for them.
Finally and since most of the world is still powered by fossil fuels, a home energy audit is something else that you can do that can make a significant difference. The audit can tell you if energy is being wasted unnecessarily. The audit should be able to tell you what steps you need to take in order to improve energy efficiency — and some of those things are as simple as sealing windows and turning off or unplugging appliances.
April is a good month to make changes that will help leave a better planet for our children and grandchildren.
The writer is the mayor of Sidney.