Friday, April 20, 2012

Growing Up Environmental

Growing up just a half dozen clicks from Yellowstone Park in the shadow of the Idaho side of Grand Tetons wasn't enough to fully awaken my sensitivity for the environment.

That didn’t truly happen until the Christmas Eve of my 20th year when the first images of Earth were beamed back from Apollo 8, the first manned mission to reach and then orbit the Moon.

As the three astronauts aboard that Apollo spacecraft reappeared from the dark side of the Moon, Bill Anders captured the first image of planet Earth taken from Space.

Six and a half months after that Earthrise image was viewed around the world and just a week after I turned 21, Apollo 11 landed on the Moon.  The memories all flood back to me this time each year because it was only eight months later that Americans celebrated the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.

It was more a demonstration than the festival it has become today, but back then demonstrations were very much like festivals.  The event where I live now in Durham NC, will be in the Downtown Central Park District this coming Sunday, but you can click here to find events where you live.

Fittingly, the day before marks the beginning of National Park Week which will be commemorated in part by the re-airing of the phenomenal Ken Burns documentary series beginning the night of the 21st on public television where I live.  This is a must-see!

I experienced a revelation last summer during a 6000-mile cross-country trip that renewed my acquaintance with six national parks, Roosevelt, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain and Great Smoky, in that order.

The images of Glacier National Park in the video at this link  provide a glimpse into why a visit there for an SBNR (Spiritual But Not Religious) like me is such a powerful confirmation of the existence of a Greater Power and our responsibility of stewardship to this planet.

These images also kindle an outrage at many things happening today.  But outrage over the environment during my lifetime didn’t begin with the first Earth Day.Fish Dam  The trajectory of that outrage can be traced as follows:

Legislation was passed a week before I was born to set the first national water quality standards in 1948.

Lethal smog episodes first received media attention that fall and by the week after I turned seven air quality standards were first established.

As astronaut Alan Shepard arched briefly into space on May 5th 1961 aboard Freedom 7 during my 7th grade school lunch break, the health effects of nationwide carbon dioxide and other vehicle emissions were becoming a serious concern.  Thirty months later the first clean air act was passed.

During my first year of high school, weeks after a multi-state tour to highlight the importance of conservation and the environment, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

My last year of high school was bookended by the first emission standards for cars and recognition of the nation’s symbol, the American Bald Eagle, as endangered.

Ironically, that summer before entering college, when many of us headed up into the Targhee National Forest to assist crews fighting to save towering Lodgepole Pines from a massive outbreak of mountain pine beetles, we were spraying DDT which would be banned six years later as science revealed it as a culprit in killing those Eagles.

Today, just as they were at the first-ever event 42 years ago, many Earth Day attendees will be as outraged at current efforts at the state and federal level to dismiss or undermine what they distrustfully label as “regulatory science” and roll back or gut environmental protections and the agencies that safeguard them.

Many celebrating Earth Day here in Durham may be also outraged if made aware of how lukewarm efforts are to properly fund maintenance of roadsides and parks and other open spaces or to restore, protect and expand urban forests -- all vital elements of scenic character so critical to sense-of-place and quality of life.

The outrage was personal for the 190 volunteers during the recent Creek Week in Durham who witnessed the inadequacies of year-round maintenance efforts as they pulled nearly 12 tons of trash accumulated along just 18 miles of streambeds and shoreline, much of it the result of illegal commercial dumping, though there were also examples of household cast offs.

Any official who still dares to underestimate or dismiss the inadequacies of Durham’s year-round maintenance of the community  will become equally outraged to see the extent of illegal dumping as captured in the image shown above in this blog or by clicking here.

The images were taken in the weeks running up to Earth Day during clean ups undertaken by Durham County General Services waste reduction crews often working with Keep Durham Beautiful.

What is captured in these images are not isolated instances and far outstrip the resources of valiant teams such as these and the City’s Neighborhood Services Rapid Response Impact Team.

Any state or local official tempted to disregard or undermine concerns for the environment should be required to wade through this pollution and I guarantee they will share the outrage and sense of stewardship we should all renew during Earth Day along with a revived regard for “regulatory science.”

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