In 1971, I joined my parents and older sister in the second annual Earth Day by picking up litter in Carrollton.
Dozens of us turned out in jeans and sneakers on that sunny April day, walking along the side of the road, picking up trash, 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 roadside, once covered with litter, now clean and green, and 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 with an appreciation and love for the Earth, our home and the provider of our natural resources.
Next week marks the 40th Earth Day and provides an opportunity to re-evaluate the environmental movement.
I was raised a political conservative and remain one today by choice. For me, the term "conservative" evokes a respect for tradition, authority and religious values. 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.
In the Jan. 2, 2009, Boston Globe article, "How the City Hurts Your Brain," reporter Jonah Lehrer writes, "Just being in an urban environment ... impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. ... Natural settings, in contrast, don’t require the same amount of cognitive effort."
This effect helps "children with attention-deficit disorder have fewer symptoms in natural settings," Lehrer writes. "When surrounded by trees and animals, they are less likely to have behavioral problems and are better able to focus on a particular task."
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 governments 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.
In the past decade, the global warming focus and controversy has twisted love and care for the Earth into a political wrestling match. Scare tactics and inflammatory language have created a bitter divide between those who believe global warming is real and those who believe we are in a natural cycle of temperature change.
The administration’s proposed global warming fix focuses on regulation and controls (i.e., cap and trade), rather than good stewardship of the Earth that God created. The 1970s Earth Day message of conservation has become overwhelmed by a message of fear, hijacked by a government that wants to effect change through legislation.
So, Who Cares About Global Warming? The issue itself is so polarizing and emotional that the long-term goal — living in peace and harmony with the Earth — is overlooked and trampled. We get lost in the argument and rarely stop to talk about what could be a mutual long-term vision. Though speculation and data support both sides of the argument, the true answer won’t be known in our lifetimes.
Meanwhile, our goal should be to treat the Earth, our home created for us by God, with kindness and love while creating economic and environmental sustainability. Let’s get over the argument about whether global warming exists and get to work conserving our environment in an economically sustainable way.
Jackie Gingrich Cushman founded and is chairman of the board of the Learning Makes a Difference Foundation.