Yesterday, April 22, was Earth Day. Only one day? Just like Mother’s Day, shouldn’t we honor Mother Earth every day? In this time of growing acceptance of the plain fact of the environmental crisis already underway, we need more than one day and some earnest words. Yes, global climate change and industrial pollution are massive, complex challenges that require large solutions. But every person who takes up some space on this planet can make a contribution.
Earlier this year I was out at Great Falls taking photos. I was using a long lens, and as I began to focus on the rocks, I was stunned to see huge piles of trash trapped on top of the great crags, or bobbing up and down beneath the falls — see the photos at the top of this blog. Those green soda bottles, white plastic milk containers, and other plastic debris will likely sit on top of those rocks for many years, until a great storm sweeps them back into the river, where they will find their way to the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. How did those bottles get there? Some human being somewhere started the chain reaction, throwing a bottle out of a car window where it washed down a culvert and into a Potomac tributary, or leaving trash at a picnic site near the river — or dumping trash deliberately in the dark of night.
In the summer I like to put my kayak into the Potomac above Great Falls, at Edwards Ferry. Each year, I am increasingly dismayed by the obvious debris along the river banks — those green bottles again, blue plastic barrels, old tires, even old appliances. Great blue herons pick their way across the trash on the riverbanks.
Yes, there are some bright signs amid the trash: last Sunday, driving into the city along Route 50, as I crossed the bridge at the Anacostia River I was surprised to see an eagle perched serenely on a branch a few yards upriver. Eagles have returned to many habitats in this area, and the restoration of bald eagles nationally has been one of the triumphs of conservation.
But I found myself worrying about that eagle, so out of place on the trash-strewn Anacostia. As Earth Day volunteers recounted to the Washington Post, the amount of trash along that river is disgusting, and the Anacostia River remains one of the nation’s most endangered waterways.
What can any one of us do about this? Reducing each person’s “carbon footprint” is an increasingly prominent part of environmental discussions. From the cars we drive to the disposition of that soda bottle, we have choices about the contributions we can make to the health of the planet. We should be advocates, certainly, for more serious public policy attention paid to global warming, deforestation, emission controls, fossil fuels, green buildings, and the many other issues in environmental protection. But starting with the smallest things we can control — where to put that empty soda bottle — we can demonstrate our environmental stewardship for the generations who will inherit this earth from us.
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