Earth Day No. 47

Published on April 22nd, 2016

In 1970, as a college senior, I bicycled along chalk-filled sidewalks of the Red Cedar River on Michigan State University’s campus. Peace signs became the prevalent display of the day. While we marched against the Vietnam War throughout the late 1960s, a whole new understanding of man’s “War on Nature” erupted around us.

Red-breasted robins dropped out of trees because of groundskeepers spraying DDT, a deadly poison used to control mosquitoes. Soon, bald eagles fell out of their nests while their eggs disintegrated from the effects of DDT. The chemical also proved deadly to fish and insects.

Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring,” exposed pesticides – the “Rain of Chemicals” – as the most deadly weapons used against Mother Nature and, thus, all life on this planet. Chemical companies pulled out all the stops to discredit Carson’s work. But more and more scientists corroborated her findings with their discoveries that DDT and other pesticides were killing birds, bees and mammals. Carson’s work was an important contributing element in the creation of the modern-day environmental movement and the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.

Coral at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Florida.

The movie classic, “The Graduate,” came out during that era too. In it, Dustin Hoffman plays a college student who receives what’s offered as a gem of information – that there’s just one thing to know for the future: “Plastics.” As a young scuba diver, I never forgot that movie line. During the ‘60s, I scuba-dived in pristine Michigan lakes, as well as the Gulf of Mexico and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in the Florida Keys. Breathing beneath the surface opened a whole new world to my young eyes. I watched in rapt amazement at the incredible wonders of sea life below the surface. Turtles, sharks, manta rays, flounder, sea horses and numerous other creatures filled my field of vision.

But the hope of better living through plastics and chemicals turned negative as the human race exploded from 3.5 billion in 1970 to the current 7.4 billion – more than doubling its impact on the natural world. We’ve developed 70,000 synthetic chemicals that betray and slay Mother Nature’s creative process. And likely you’ve heard more than once about the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” an area roughly the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean filled with floating, spinning and suspended plastics, while even more plastic – drift nets, toothbrushes, baby diapers and more – sinks in the ocean to usurp natural systems.

While we reverently celebrate Earth Day, powerful chemical companies abuse Mother Nature with insidious poisons that carry no “end date” to their destructive abilities. All the while, we grow our enormous carbon footprint on the biosphere.

At no time in the last five decades have we significantly stopped our march against the natural world. How much longer can Mother Nature withstand our human numbers, chemicals and carbon exhaust?

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