When I was growing up back in the Stone Age, Earth Day arrived on the scene (April 22, 1970). As a "field trip" of sorts, my classmates and I spent the afternoon cleaning up litter; we were assigned to work in the park at the center of town. I recall being a little surprised how much junk was scattered about - even in places where trash cans were within easy reach. I wondered how people could be so careless.
Fast forward 40+ years to today. While the country has made amazing progress when it comes to basic respect for nature, (I'm old enough to remember the Cuyahoga River in Ohio so full of oil-soaked muck that it literally caught on fire), we've still got a long way to go.
I'm not referring to the climate change debate, either. Just fundamental respect for an amazing gift from God: the world outside our front doors.
Take litter. Not just unsightly, litter causes real problems when it "moves on down the line," so to speak - as it's thrown, blown and washed into waterways and ultimately makes its way into the ocean. There, it pollutes beaches and other coastal habitats, and harms marine life.
A vast area in the Pacific Ocean is filled with accumulated debris (much of it plastics). Known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," it's the largest "landfill" in the world. Birds and marine life often confuse the trash for food, ingesting it - and then dying.
It's been estimated that 80% of the junk in that floating Garbage Patch originated on land. Sobering thought, isn't it?
Litter is everywhere.
The last time I was in Washington, D.C. on a photo shoot, I walked along the Tidal Basin - on one side the beautiful cherry trees, on the other, water bottles and soft drink cans bobbing at water's edge within eyesight of the majestic Jefferson Memorial. This, in spite of many waste receptacles easily accessible along the way.
Consider how often you've noticed a driver in the vehicle ahead of you toss something out the window - or how routinely people stamp out cigarette butts on the pavement. Look along the side of the road next time you drive ANYWHERE. It's a safe bet you'll see trash at some point along the way.
Then there's the propensity of some to deface the natural world. If you're a hiker, I'm certain you've come across your share of trees with initials carved into them, scribbling covering once-beautiful boulders, and other similar sights. Would a person do this sort of thing in her own home, or at the home of a friend? Would she throw garbage on the floor, vandalize a piece of art, or carve her initials in the countertop? Unlikely.
What changes when she walks outside? What makes it okay to behave this way in the vast "living room" we all share?
It's hard to pick up the newspaper or turn on the television and not hear something about the green industry. Green products. Green homes. Green energy. Green cars. That's all well and good, but a fundamental piece of the puzzle seems to be missing.
Want to be green? Use a trash can. If you carried it in, carry it out. Avoid the impulse to carve, scribble or otherwise damage the "artwork" you see in nature. Simple. Effective. And it'll have an enormously positive impact.
Maybe one of these Earth Days, we'll be able to celebrate the fact that we've collectively cleaned up our act.
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