Column: Earth Day 2014 -- who cares?
Earth Day 2014 will occur on Tuesday, April 22. This will be the 44th observance of Earth Day since it was first organized in 1970. Why should anyone care? The answer is simple -- the future well-being of planet Earth depends on raising public awareness about the impact of human activities on the biosphere and the importance of good stewardship. Size now matters!
The Earth's population has already surged past the 7 billion mark and may reach 10 billion by 2050. As more and more people enjoy a better standard of living in the developing world, the "Consumer Age" demands increased global access to food, water, energy, building materials and mineral resources for the lifestyles we take for granted in New Canaan.
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The planet is rapidly reaching a point where the current trajectory of consumption and widespread disregard for the environment is simply not sustainable. The burning of fossil fuels has energized the global economies, but we now know there is a price to pay in terms of the human contribution to global warming, ocean acidification and rising sea levels.
Pesticides have enabled the mass production and global distribution of food, but at what cost to our long-term health? Humans and all other living life forms did not evolve with the ability to metabolize chemical compounds that do not occur in nature. Globalization has important economic consequences, but it has also introduced invasive plant and insect species like Japanese knot weed and stilt grass that is taking over New Canaan's roadsides. The emerald ash borer and woolly adelgid, invasive insects, are destroying Connecticut's lovely ash and hemlock trees. Deforestation, desert creation and a dearth of potable water are critical issues for many countries. The developing world is drowning in trash and toxic chemicals from improper waste management. What can and should we do about this?
Earth Day is a time when citizens are encouraged to reflect upon the environment and to act in ways that will mitigate the human impact on the natural world. New Canaan is blessed with a strong "green" ethic and plans are in progress to celebrate Earth Week. The New Canaan Nature Center and other conservation orientated organizations are organizing activities to raise public awareness about nature and the environment during the week of April 19 through 26. Participants include the New Canaan Garden Club; Pesticide Free New Canaan; Saxe Middle School; New Canaan Land Trust; New Canaan Library; the town of New Canaan; New Canaan departments of Inland Wetlands and Watercourses; New Canaan Parks, Highway and Public Works; Chamber of Commerce; TD Bank; and Rotary Club of New Canaan.
First Selectman Rob Mallozzi is supporting Earth Week and the Conservation Commission has endorsed this community effort.
The nature center will be focusing on the plight of the pollinator, and the habitat of the Monarch butterfly specifically -- it is rapidly disappearing. Nature center volunteers will be handing out packets of milk weed seeds at multiple spots around the village and encouraging friends and neighbors to take a few minutes to plant them anywhere and everywhere. Pollinators love milkweed!
Other organizations will present on a variety of environmental awareness themes both at the nature center and around town. The land trust plans to offer guided tours of some of its properties. New Canaan Library will offer environmental awareness programs for children and adults during the week. On April 23, I will give a lecture at the library titled "The Future of Planet Earth: A Changing Biosphere and Human Stewardship." The talk will cover how the Earth has changed over geological time; how humans have impacted the environment over the last 25,000 years; the scientific evidence for climate change and the human factor; sustainability; and what we can and must do to assure a healthier environment for our children.
Hopefully, Earth Week will become an annual celebration in New Canaan. I would like to see each school, the Boy Scouts, local churches and civic groups find ways to participate. In Fairfield, for example, there is an annual school-wide Earth Day art contest. The Scouts, perhaps with the assistance of CL&P and one of the heating oil companies, might distribute literature about the importance of energy conservation. Yankee Gas could set up an exhibit to explain the cost and advantages of switching from heating oil to natural gas. The tree board and tree warden might consider enlisting the schools and scouts to plant native trees and flowering shrubs on school grounds, in public parks and along roads where dead trees have been removed.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if the Town Council celebrated Earth Day by making a resolution to appropriate $25,000 for the purchase of trees. Civic organizations and private donors could contribute funds to make it possible for the town to purchase and plant trees larger than a typical 6- to 10-foot sapling. The Public Works Department could promote a "recycle your old batteries and electronics" day at the transfer station. An open house at the sewer treatment plant would be a great event. This facility is a very important contributor to the environmental health of New Canaan and ultimately Long Island Sound. A volunteer initiative to remove invasive weeds, trees and vines from New Canaan's roadsides and public parks is also a future Earth Week activity to consider.
Please join me in making Earth Day a memorable annual event in New Canaan.
New Canaan resident Skip Hobbs is a geologist and conservationist.