Earth Day: In Action, or Inaction?

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If you were once a typical kid, there’s a good chance you had this sort of conversation with your parents at least once. Kid: “If there’s a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, why isn’t there a Children’s Day?” Parent: “Every day is Children’s Day.”

I think some calendars do mark a Children’s Day, but it’s never been acknowledged by my family, because, of course, every day is Children’s Day. Which I think is the approach we should all be taking toward today. It might be Earth Day, but shouldn’t every day be Earth Day?

As a concept, Earth Day appears to be 49 years old today, and while it’s easy to see where the one day a year has not been Enough, we should recognize where the campaign has, if not succeeded, at least raised awareness.

I am of the vintage to remember Iron Eyes Cody of commercial fame, a Native American who walked through heaps of trash littering the Great Outdoors and then turned to look at the camera with a single tear running down his cheek. And while I didn’t live near any of them, I can recall stories of waterways being so filled with trash that they were catching on fire. Water, on fire.

That’s what it took for people to realize we had a Major Problem on our hands and that we needed to Do Something. As a result, these days it’s harder to find rivers that will catch on fire; recycling is a concept most people are familiar with, even if many are not ardent practitioners; and now people are starting to cut back on their use of plastic straws.

Is it Enough? Not even close.

As a small-time environmental crusader, I have learned over my lifetime just how little people love a nag, which is a less-polite synonym for crusader. It has not stopped me, but I do recognize that people might not see it as my best feature.

I can’t explain this to you, and it’s so ingrained in my being that I can’t tell you how it came about. From a very young age I scrupulously turned off lights when people weren’t in rooms, pounded soda cans flat with a hammer for recycling, and it never even occurred to me to run the water continuously while brushing my teeth.

More to the point, I have, since those early years, rarely hesitated to chastise people when they weren’t doing the same. Ask anyone at Pat’s Screen Printing: I’m sure they’ve all been told “That’s recyclable” more than they ever wanted to hear. And they probably get very tired of me picking through their trash to fish out the plastic bottles and aluminum cans they’ve thrown away instead of plunking in one of four — four — recycling buckets. I know at least one gets very defensive when I sigh in exasperation because the bathroom light has been left on. Again.

Does this mean I lead a blameless existence? Hardly. No matter what I do, my footprint is still treading pretty heavily upon our Earth.

I watched a film once — I wish I could remember the name — in which a man in New York City set out to Do Something. Now I can’t even remember what. He was trying to live for a year in a responsible environmental fashion, but I can’t remember the parameters he set. He tried going without electricity, and he was riding a bike.

Mostly what I remember is how aggravated I was over his sanctimony, when the only way his experiment worked was because his neighbors did not undertake the same experiment.

His apartment was so cold that his wife — who did not enjoy his experiment at all, at any time in the process — spent her time bundled into every coat she owned, lying under the covers of the bed. But the only way it maintained even that temperature was because he was living in an apartment, with neighbors on either side, below and above him, all of them heating their apartments. Had his been a free-standing unit, his wife would have frozen solid.

When he needed ice for something, he got it from a neighbor rather than going without. While he insisted he wife and child had to go completely without electricity, he needed his computer, so he ran a solar panel up to the roof — conveniently, with just enough power to accommodate his laptop. For some reason, and I don’t remember why, his wife wasn’t allowed her daily coffee.

I was so irritated by the end of the documentary I could barely stand it, and I think all he proved was that, really, he couldn’t do without all the trappings of modern society.

I’m quite sure we could all live more mindfully, and there are some of us who have yet to come to grips with science, who don’t believe that we are jeopardizing our own existence despite evidence that doesn’t require a scientist. Are our Januarys warmer? Yes. Can you see the red dust that blows in from Utah nearly every year now, that lands on the snow and makes it melt faster? Check. Can you find a higher meaning in these happenstances? Unfortunately, not everyone does.

And who wants to be lectured by a sanctimonious hypocrite? I refuse single-use water bottles wherever I go, and yet I am well into another box of store-brand frozen mini-creampuffs. The box is number 5 plastic, and it’s bulky and not recyclable here. It would be if I lived in Montrose, but I can’t take it to their recycle center unless I have proof of a Montrose address. It would be if I lived in Arvada, but I have limited means of getting it there. To Lynn’s dismay, I save giant bags of my plastics that aren’t 1 or 2, but they rarely seem to make it out of our garage.

And since they’re not going anywhere, the creampuff boxes have started going back into the trash. The better solution would be to stop eating the creampuffs, but they’re a low-sugar snack highly beloved by not just me, but Oz and Na Ki’o as well.

It’s that “but” that keeps every day from being Earth Day. Along with the sanctimony that we’re saving the planet while really achieving this off our wasteful neighbors’ largesse.

We can use Earth Day to look around and see what everyone else is doing wrong — perhaps 20 percent of the Amazon rain forest has been clear-cut, and Brazil recently entered a “we don’t care” phase — or we could do the harder task of introspection. Not only introspection, but action.

Is it bad that I’m eating creampuffs stored in #5 plastic? Yes. Am I going to stop eating them? Not until my guilt level rises higher. Can I do something to attempt to offset this personal failing? Something that won’t inconvenience me?

Which is what it comes down to, right? You’d like to think we could all do things that are easy, but that bar appears at different heights for people, which is why I still have to pick cans and bottles out of the trash at work.

So perhaps the Earth Day challenge for today and — ideally — every other day this year, is to raise our own personal bars just a little bit higher. Maybe not creampuff high, but instead of mindlessly tossing soda bottles into the trash, we take the extra five steps to the recycle bucket. Or, since I already take those steps, I need to find something that takes me five steps farther. Like riding my bike even on the windy days when “easy” would be to get in the car.

That’s still all too little, but at least it’s doing Something, and it might honor Earth. She’s the only one we have, you know.

 

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