This week marks the 44th anniversary of Earth Day. In years past, the day has been marked with great media fanfare and attention. This week, it marched by with little mention. This is not so much a reflection of any lack of interest in the Earth, but a reflection of how mainstream and ongoing the topics of recycling, reclaiming and sustainability have become. They are now part of our daily lives, rather than a topic to be raised once a year.
For the first Earth Day, in 1970, the Keep America Beautiful organization ran a commercial that portrayed what appeared to be an American Indian crying over the pollution that littered our country. Later, we found out the actor was neither an Indian nor was he crying. However, the visual of an American Indian shedding a tear over the destruction wrought by pollution remains seared in my mind.
In 1971, I joined my parents and older sister in the second annual Earth Day by picking up litter in Carrollton, Ga. Dozens of us turned out in jeans and sneakers on that sunny April day — walking along the side of the road, picking up trash and putting it into garbage bags. The most memorable piece of trash we picked up was a toilet seat. Why someone had thrown it out on the side of the road, I have no idea, but when we were done, it was gone. After we filled each bag, we tied a knot in the top and left it to be picked up by a truck.
At the end of the day, I looked back and saw the grass by the side of the road, once covered wiath litter, now clean and green, and I felt good. We had accomplished something, we had made a difference; the world was a bit better off.
You might wonder why I was involved in the environment at age 4 going on 5. Did hippies raise me? No, my father — who favored long sideburns and turtleneck shirts — was an environmental studies professor at West Georgia College. In addition to picking up trash, he led us canoeing in the Okefenokee Swamp, camping on Cumberland Island and hiking in North Georgia. During the summers, our family would vacation at Cheaha State Park in Alabama, swimming in ice-cold, spring-fed pools and hiking to the top of the mountain for picnics of ham-and-cheese sandwiches. I was raised to appreciate and love the Earth, our home and the provider of our natural resources.
As a conservative, I believe conservatives should lead the conservation movement — not through government control and regulation, but through an understanding of and appreciation for the beauty and benefits of nature. My husband and I both believe in the importance of saving land, clean water and places for children — and adults — to play outdoors.
Toward that end, we have long been involved in the Trust for Public Land, a non-profit focused on saving land for people. In Georgia, its members have worked to protect the land around the Chattahoochee River, improve the quality of water and provide people with access to undeveloped land.
The trust’s Parks for People program is focused on increasing the number and accessibility of public parks. The focus in the metro Atlanta area is the Beltline project, which “is a sustainable redevelopment project that will provide a network of public parks, multi-use trails and transit along a historic 22-mile railroad corridor circling downtown and connecting many neighborhoods directly to each other,” according to the Atlanta Beltline website. The newest project is Proctor Creek, an in-town waterway that connects the Atlanta Beltline with the Chattahoochee River.
Exposure to the natural environment reduces stress and helps us focus. We need nature — and nature needs us — to treat it well. Additionally, we need to redefine sustainable living as something that sustains us not only environmentally but also economically. If we cannot figure out how to create a sustainable economic model along with a sustainable environmental model, then any fix won’t last -- just ask any company or individual facing bankruptcy.
Even government officials have to figure out how to finance expenditures over time, either through additional taxes or by printing additional money, which fuels inflation and lowers purchasing power.
To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers, visit www.creators.com.