Happy Earth Day!
If you google Earth Day you’ll find an eponymous collection of historical and propaganda-esque pages — both positive and negative. It’s almost annoying how a non-state holiday commemorating an idea instead of an event can cause controversy . Well, I have a couple of thoughts on this myself, of course…
To begin, I’ve met Senator Nelson, celebrated founder of Earth Day. At least the one celebrated here in America. He was warm and well-educated. I got to ask him what he felt was the most pressing issue facing global ecology today, and his answer was very insightful.
I met him at Governor’s School in 1989 when he came as an invited speaker. He talked for over an hour with no slides or video, just him and a podium. Fascinating talk about the history of Earth Day and his purpose for presenting the bill to Congress. The environment was as big of an issue then as it is now, but focused more on clean air than temperatures. Here’s how the conversation went: (if this seems really stiff and rehearsed, it’s because it was! heh.)
Me: What can I do as just some teenager to help the global crisis?
Nelson: Try to keep your neighborhood clean and be wary of pollution from local industries.
[right, you see the blow-off generic response he did there?]
Me: What I mean is, there’s a lot of talk about the destruction of tropical rain forests. I want to help fight this problem. Is there some way I can take part?
Nelson: There’s a lot of press on what’s happening in Brazil, yet no one seems to notice that we’re wiping out the old-growth forests up in Washington State. If the citizens there would start paying attention to what’s happening around them, that destruction might be deterred. What sort of stuff is happening around here that should be stopped? Do you know? Why would you, as a teenager, ever care more about Brazil than your own backyard?
At that time I felt he was avoiding the question. I wanted an answer to the question I asked, but what I got was a re-direction and an accusation. Because I felt jilted, I remembered his words and dwelled on them for a long time.
What I remember most about Senator Nelson was his domineering size. He was somewhat tall and moderately built, but his hands were huge! When I shook his hand I could swear that he could have wrapped it around mine three times! Guess that makes him a born politician.
Now that I’m older and have become a realist (instead of a youthful dreamer), I understand that what he said has a lot of merit, if not an absolute truth. I’m still not sure what to do about the global condition, but I *do* try to pick up bits of paper and other trash when I see it wherever I go. As long as we can leave this world a little better than we found it, then we’ve done our part.
So I’m really glad I got a chance to meet him, and I do look forward to Earth Day every year. If each one of us just did a little bit toward helping our environment then we wouldn’t have the major problems that require us to spend countless millions of dollars to fix. The definition of “little bit” may be different to a preschooler from a corporate director, but the decisions we make each day do make us who we are. And those decisions aren’t just for you — they’re for all of us.