Earth Day 2023!

April 22, 2023

On April 22, 1970, I vaguely remember Walter Cronkite on the CBS nightly news discussing something called Earth Day. I paid attention since, after all, when Walter reported on a topic, it must be important. Who could have imagined 53 years ago Earth Day would become the largest environmental movement. In my 2020 Earth Day blog I discussed some of the underlying reasons Earth Day was started, but suffice to say, our environmental stewardship was virtually non-existent. Various groups that had been individually fighting against oil spills, polluting industry, toxic dumps, pesticides, vehicle emissions, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife united on Earth Day around these shared common interests. It was a different era in politics when both parties actually listened to their constituents and were able to govern appropriately. The politicians in Washington clearly observed the tidal wave of Americans interested in the environment they lived in. And, of course, they paid attention to Walter Cronkite as well! By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day led to the formation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other first of their kind environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act. Not long after 1970, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. One just cannot underestimate what are current living conditions would be without these laws protecting millions of people from poor health and death and have protected hundreds of species from extinction.

Mellow Yellow

A brilliant display of maples under a canopy of ancient trees.

So, why is Earth Day important to me? I don't know exactly when or why it started, but early on in my life the natural world provided a sense of well being and a place I felt comfortable. Without question I enjoy standing next to tree rather than a skyscraper. I would rather hear the rush of a waterfall instead of construction noise. I would rather smell the scent of sagebrush after a summer rain than vehicle emissions. I'll walk on dirt all day compared to concrete. I prefer to actually see stars. And, of course, most of all, I like to point my camera at beautiful natural scenes! I still appreciate and need many of things society and cities have to offer. What would I do without craft beer or pumpkin lattes after all? But occasionally I do need to "regenerate" my spirit and the natural world provides that opportunity.

So, I guess from a selfish perspective, Earth Day for me is a celebration of maintaining the slice of the world I most enjoy.

As the saying goes, "change starts with action." Earth Day is recognized one day every year, but the call to action should be instituted throughout the year. Every person has their own level of action they feel comfortable with. Some may go the political route and try to make a difference at the governmental level. I applaud those who take on such challenges but I realize I just don't have the intestinal fortitude or patience to fight the silliness of today's political arena. That said, everyone has the opportunity to vote for those candidates whose agenda aligns with your beliefs. But whether the action you can take is big or small, it does make a difference. It made a big difference in 1970 and will today if enough people band together.

Actions we all can do to reinforce the concepts of Earth Day most certainly should begin with individual efforts. Earth Day organizers have coined the term "acts of green." Below are some examples of green actions we all can take in our own lives.

We are quite fortunate on our property to have ample space to grow our own vegetables and fruit. What started out as a small garden area has evolved into a small farm! That just seems to happen when one gets used of the taste of fresh vegetables and fruit. But growing one's own veggies also has bigger positive ramifications. Overall, compared to industrial farming, home gardening is a sustainable and eco-friendly way to grow food and can help to reduce the carbon footprint by reducing transportation emissions, reducing food waste, producing compost, and conserving water. It's also a great way to suck in some fresh air and work out some muscles. With fresh veggies so appealing, one might even be persuaded to actually eat a more vegan diet. Cutting back on meat, particularly beef, is a wise choice for a myriad of reasons. That discussion is forthcoming.

I realize many of you reading this blog may live in an apartment or a home that doesn't have much space for a garden. Your solution is grow sacks! Almost any vegetable can be grown in them and they take up little space. All you need is a place with sun and you're ready to go. Ok, yea, these fabric bags may not be stylish, but they work quite well. Many gardeners prefer to grow potatoes in them to save space and make harvesting easy.

Eat tofu? Discussing the pros and cons of eating red meat, specifically beef, is like discussing politics. Everyone has a distinct opinion, but if one applies some actual facts, wiser decisions can be made. Here are some facts I researched from various reliable sources.

1. Every pound of beef produced creates 60 times as much greenhouse gases as growing a pound of wheat, corn or peas.

2. An estimated 1,800 gallons of water go into the production a single pound of beef.

3. It takes more than 11 times as much fossil fuel to make one calorie from beef as it does to make one calorie from plant protein.

4. Industrial meat is the single biggest cause of deforestation globally.

5. Beef requires 20 times more land than growing plant crops.

These are disturbing facts, but I'm not advocating eliminating beef, but rather maintaining or scaling back production. If people in higher income countries would eat less beef, it would offset the growth of beef in new markets, like China. The are benefits to eating beef from a nutritional perspective. But I would speculate that all medical professionals would advocate eating a diverse diet with less red meat. In general, the benefits of eating less or no meat include: weighing less than people who eat meat; are less likely to die of heart disease; have lower LDL cholesterol levels; and are less likely to get high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and colon/prostate cancer.

As mentioned in my opening statement, a discussion about beef consumption is a touchy one. After all, for those of us raised eating beef, it's a difficult food item to reduce or replace. At this point in my life, I am not sure I could totally eliminate my guilty pleasure of carne asada from my diet! But overall I have significantly reduced my beef consumption. A United Nations study I recently read indicated 14% of all man-made greenhouse gases are created by livestock. This graphical representation of greenhouse gases emissions displays just how much more beef produces relatively to other consumables. Another disturbing concern is how much my one of my favorite comfort foods, chocolate, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Oh no!!

One of those "green actions" we all can tackle that would reduce greenhouse emissions is cutting meat consumption. One does not have to become a vegan to accomplish this. According to one Harvard study if every person in the U.S. cut their meat consumption by 25 percent, it would reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by one percent. That might not sound like a lot, but it would help reduce the deforestation globally.

If you think vinegar is just for salads, consider the other uses around the house. White vinegar can replace many household cleaners, pesticides, and other chemicals.

    • Unclog a drain- pouring a 1/2 cup of baking soda, followed by 1 cup of vinegar will foam and unclog a drain. I also use this approximate recipe to clean a toilet bowl.
    • Removes rust from tools, but needs a few days soaking time.
    • A streak free cleaner for windows; one part vinegar to two parts water
    • Clean ceramic tiles
    • Cleaning and descaling coffee makers
    • Weed and vegetation killer

    The photo above is horticultural vinegar which is more concentrated than grocery vinegar. Normally vinegar is around 3% concentration whereas horticultural vinegar can be purchased up to 45% concentration. At those concentrations you do have to protect you skin and try not to breath in the vapors. I use vinegar extensively to replace vegetation killers, like Roundup. It shrivels up weeds within a short time, which is ultimately very satisfying! Unfortunately, it doesn't always completely kill the entire root, but overall it is a much safer chemical to use. Be aware it is not selective. It will happily kill any green plant. You can use regular 3% vinegar, however, the effects will take longer.

    Waste to treasure! Yes! There is a bit of science in regards to successful composting, but there are many benefits. Some include: reducing the amount of waste in landfills and the carbon emissions it requires to haul and process those materials; enriching garden soil, resulting in less need for fertilizers and pesticides; increase soil's ability to maintain moisture; helps sequester carbon which can help remove carbon from the atmosphere.

    As previously mentioned, our vegetable garden has expanded greatly, consequently, our scale of composting required large bins. But there are many small composting tumblers available to compost even if you decided to have a small garden or use the aforementioned fabric grow sacks.

    What can be diverted from the trash to the compost bin? Probably a longer list that you have thought about. Items can include; fruit and vegetable scraps, whether fresh, cooked, frozen, or completely moldy. Other good things to compost, include tea (with the bag unless the bag is plastic), coffee grounds (including paper filters), egg shells, plant prunings, leaves, and grass cuttings. Also on the list; plain paper – white or colored; newspaper; brown & colored non-shiny cardboard (especially corrugated cardboard); books – but not the cover or glossy photo pages; tissues and kitchen paper.

    I'm sure you have read about plastic pollution quickly becoming one of the most pressing worldwide environmental issues. The use of plastics have made our lives easier, but we now realize at a significant price. Some disturbing facts include: 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels; plastics have contaminated vast stretches our of lands and oceans; plastics kill millions of wildlife every year; every 30 seconds one person dies from diseases from plastic and waste.

    Alternatives? Compostable materials such as paper and algae-based materials are more sustainable than single-use plastics. Other alternatives to single-use plastics are those that are nontoxic and reusable, such as stainless steel, glass, ceramic, wood, and bamboo. But those products also have disadvantages.

    Some states and retail stores have made their commitment to reducing plastic waste and have instituted a single-use plastic bag ban. Regardless if you live in a community that bans plastic bags or not, an easy green action you can adopt is bringing your own bags to the store.

    Earth Day serves as a reminder that we all have a role to play in protecting the planet. Making small changes in our daily lives is more impactful than you might realize. Every day I feel fortunate to live in a country that has focused on environmental stewardship. No doubt we have fanatical individuals that try to undermine environmental laws and regulations primarily because they believe they create economic hardships. Yes, the price of business comes with a cost if we want to maintain a clean environment. But if you want understand what a country looks like without strict environmental laws, take a look at some current images in China and India. When the first Earth Day was organized in 1970, many urban areas of our country were in pitiful condition. Considering it was so many years ago, the efforts of a dedicated group of individuals, including politicians from both sides of aisle, have been forgotten. Thus, I raise my bottle of craft beer to acknowledge those efforts 53 years ago. And I can only hope 53 years from now, folks will toast us for doing the right thing for the environment!

    I hope this information was useful and would like to hear your comments. For now I will sign off with the same words we heard from Walter Cronkite every night, "and that's the way it is."

    Best to ya!

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