Greetings! For those who don’t know me, for 37 years I worked for various federal land management agencies. Yea, I suspect if I was focused on chasing money, I would have found another career path. It may sound cliché, but I enjoyed public service and doing my small part in protecting and enhancing our public lands. Now retired, my focus has shifted on maintaining a small slice of land in Washington State. Additionally, I use my landscape photo business to promote environmental education. So, it should come as no surprise the celebration of Earth Day is an important event.
Earth Day 2022 - Invest in our Planet
The theme of Earth Day 2022 is “Invest in our Planet.” When it comes to getting anything accomplished, money talks. According to climatologists we are close to being at a tipping point in regards to climate issues. To reverse the current trend, countries should now be compelled to focus on new environmental polices and invest significant money to address climate change. It is an unfortunate characteristic of human nature that we avoid change or won't address an issue until it is absolutely necessary. Delaying the inevitable almost always escalates costs significantly. During the early part of my government career, I was part of a fire fighting crew. Although my motivation for fighting wildfires was primarily for the additional money, the many adventures I experienced could easily fill a book! Suffice to say some of those “adventures” entailed a lot of grueling work and in some cases, life threatening situations. Although some memories of my fire fighting experiences are fading with age, I certainly never recall any wildfire season that extended year around. Now that appears to be normal. As I write this narrative, fires are burning in Colorado and New Mexico. 20-30 years ago, it was difficult and often impossible to have successful prescribed burns in the spring due to the high moisture content of the vegetation. There are many significant impacts from climate change, but the obvious damage wildfires have created to the forests and shrub lands of the western United States may take generations to fully recover. Even more significant than the physical change to the landscapes are the impacts to human health. The loss of life and property is devastating, but the secondary effects of wildfire smoke are experienced by thousands of people across the United States.
The focus on reversing climate change should be paramount for every country. But there are also many other environmental issues we face that are a detriment to a sustainable planet. Each year, Earth Day’s message is to improve our sustainability. But before we can discuss how to improve sustainability, we have to understand the concept and define it. The most simple definition of sustainability is the ability to meet the needs of people and their communities, now and in the long term. For this discussion, I am not referring to having the newest smart phone or any other technology, but basic life requirements: clean air and water; productive natural resources; and functioning ecosystems. And all these components must be available for future generations for a decent quality of life. That last part of the definition is THE most difficult aspect to sustainability. We, as humans, are so focused to create a world that is great for us, NOW. But will our practices or lifestyles will be beneficial to future generations? We have many lessons from history that should remind us that we often forgo our responsibilities to those who follow us for a better living situation during our lifetime. Oftentimes, that is not our intent, but even when it was recognized our practices could be detrimental to planet’s sustainability, we took the easy path and justified our actions. One classic example is the development of herbicides and pesticides. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, with an escalating world population, we recognized the need to produce more food at reasonable costs. Unfortunately, numerous pests took advantage of our agricultural practices to reduce crop yields. Instead of adjusting our agricultural practices, the best option was eliminating the pests. And yea, many prefer dead bugs anyway, right? With the complete focus on pest elimination, a new industry was born. Creating a myriad of chemicals developed solely to remove agriculture pests became a huge and lucrative business. No doubt the new industry created many new jobs and opportunities for people. And yes, those chemists did indeed develop a wide range of successful pesticides that, at the time, made life much better. Who could argue that more food at reasonable costs were a bad thing? And beyond just agriculture use, pesticides were developed to control insects and rodents that spread diseases directly to humans. And who can forget those humerous Raid commercials and their slogan, “Raid Kills Bugs Dead.”
I don’t want to give the impression our arsenal of pesticides is one of the worst things we have done as a civilization. Many have made our quality of life better. But where we are at fault is not using them properly and integrating them into a wholistic approach to pest management. However, some pesticides should never have been commercialized. Although they work exceptionally well, some have proven to have damaging long term effects to human health and the environment. DDT is one of those highly toxic pesticides that first comes to mind. Initially, it was developed to combat insect born human diseases, particularly malaria. A good thing for sure, at the time. It also proved to be quite effective to combat many insects in crop and livestock production and also in homes and gardens. But with the widespread use evidence on how detrimental it was to the environment and human health became apparent. It took years before the United States finally banned its use. DDT is certainly not the only chemical developed to help improve human life that has been found to detrimental to human health or to the environment. Overuse or misuse of some pesticides has lead to a serious decline in pollinators, particularly honeybees. The loss of honeybees is now a significant cost to some segments of the agricultural industry. Fruit and nut growers need bees for pollination to have profitable crop yields. However, other agricultural operations depend on pesticides to control insects that damage their crops. Unfortunately, some of those pesticides kill the bees. And besides some of the obvious negative impacts of pesticides, can anyone really calculate the cost of groundwater impacts from pesticides?
Again I want to reiterate, in this example regarding pesticides, many have been beneficial to improve our lives. But are they sustainable? As mentioned, many pesticides have met the needs of people and their communities, at the time they had been used. But will their use and in some cases, misuse, meet the needs of those who follow us? DDT has been banned for 50 years, yet traces still can be found in soil and waterways! As previously mentioned, the most difficult aspect of adopting sustainability practices is consideration of our actions for future generations.
Investing in our planet for a sustainable future seems rather daunting considering all that is happening in the world today. One of the most effective ways we as individuals can impact our world today and in the future is considering our voting choices. The midterm elections will be soon upon us. Does your candidate support a green economy and sustainable practices?
Besides the larger political side of sustainability, there are day to day actions and choices we can make to improve our lives and invest in our planet.
1. Reduce plastic usage. Unfortunately, many plastic products are not recyclable. Find alternatives to non recyclable plastic. For instance, you could bring your own bags when you go to the grocery store.
2. Compost. If you are in a situation where you can compost, your garden will greatly benefit. Even just using eggshells and ground coffee will benefit your garden’s soil health. Anything to reduce our reliance on fertilizer will be beneficial.
3. Buy locally grown food. Besides the reducing the carbon footprint of reducing transportation, many local growers have organic products.
4. Go pesticide free. As previously mentioned, sometimes pesticides are a necessity. However, if used, follow label requirements and use sparingly. One alternative to non selective weed control is vinegar. Although, regular supermarket vinegar will work, its concentration is quite low, usually 3%. Many hardware stores have horticultural vinegar at 20-30% concentration. It works great, but be careful as it destroys all vegetation. Another choice if you are in the right situation, is using a propane torch. No doubt there is instant gratification seeing weeds shrivel up!
5. Use environmentally friendly cleaning products. Living at a house with a septic system, it's imperative to find cleaning products that are septic safe. At first it was a difficult transition finding effective cleaning products that are “greener.” Fortunately, there are more available than I realized. And many work better or as good as some of the traditional toxic cleaners. Once again, vinegar can be a good choice for many cleaning tasks. Murphy’s Oil soap or similar product can be used for variety of cleaning tasks. The Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is also amazing at cleaning a variety of household items.
For more information on how you can contribute to “investing in our planet,” check out the Earth Day website.
Best to ya,