When I was in sixth grade in 1970, we celebrated the first Earth Day. I remember numerous news stories on TV and in the newspapers about pollution problems in the Jacksonville area. There were pictures of who knows what being discharged from factories in to the St. John’s River. Of course, the paper factories were a major industry in Jacksonville and the odor emanating from them was a constant reminder of the air pollution problem in the city. At that time plans were being formulated to protect the bald eagle since there was a real danger that our national symbol could become extinct. Looking back, it’s pretty amazing that so much focus was placed on the environment by the government and the media. What a successful campaign!
Schools were encouraged to spend time studying the issue of protecting the environment. That’s why I remember the news reports. We were to watch the news and cut out articles from the newspaper to share. My teacher, Mrs. Boyle, assigned research papers (an excellent way to get 12 year olds interested in the environment) and my project was on water pollution. But the important thing about that first Earth Day is that it started a conversation about the very real problems people were causing and how we might make changes to reverse the damage.
Many improvements have been made as a result of our nation’s focus on environmental protection. You no longer see the haze surrounding large cities. In the 1960s and 70s smog and other air pollution caused a visible haze especially noticeable when approaching a city. The air no longer has an odor associated with pollution except of course when fires are burning due to drought (or when you’re in Palatka where you can still smell the paper mills). Many rivers and lakes in the U.S. are in much better condition than 40 years ago, but I fear that some of that progress may be lost due to relaxing of some of the protections enacted during the past three or four decades. That’s why it’s more important than ever that each of us do our part to make a difference.
I remember your Dad complaining about the crazy woman who would bring all of her mesh bags to Publix because she objected to cutting down trees to make paper bags. And at the same time my Uncle Bill was encouraging everyone he knew to ask the bag boys to double bag their groceries to help the paper industry. We weren’t very environmentally friendly.
While our nation is backsliding on environmental issues, more citizens are taking an active role in the protection of resources and the environment. So 43 years after the first Earth Day I want to remind you to make every day Earth Day and do your part. The Reduce, Reuse, Recycle slogan of Earth Day campaigns is the best way to issue these reminders. Do your part: reduce consumption, reuse resources, and then recycle. You can make a difference.