By JOYCE COMINGORE
Special to The Breeze
Last Sunday was Earth Day, which falls every April 22. Started in 1970, by Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, it was an environmental teach-in that the press called "Earth Day."
Actually it was the second Earth Day observance, the first being when John McConnell introduced the idea as a global holiday to the UNESCO Conference on Environment in 1969. Our national and worldwide event came about because Sen. Gaylord, in the '60s, had been disturbed by the lack of environmental awareness that made it a non-issue in the politics of our country. He tried having President Kennedy go on a national conservation tour in 1963 to raise awareness of this issue. It didn't help. So instead of trying from the top down, he'd go from the bottom up, organizing nationwide environmental "teach-ins."
Gaylord said, "Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. It organized itself."
This success helped persuade the U.S. politicians that environmental legislation had a large and substantial power base. In 1970, Simon and Garfunkel sang "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" and the Beatles gave us "Let it Be."
In 1972, Supreme Court Justice Wm. O. Douglas wrote a dissenting opinion in a landmark environmental law case, stating that rocks and trees and water and sky had rights: "The voice of the inanimate object" should not be stilled.
By 1990, Earth Day was an international event - more than 200 million people in 141 countries were participating. Now, more than half a billion people are involved world wide.
The date was chosen because it was, generally, mid-week, and didn't conflict with the weather, college exams, spring breaks or religious holidays. Many famous birthdays are on April 22. St. Francis of Assisi, considered of the first environmentalists; John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club that actually was April 21, but many thought it was the 22); Vladimir Lenin, leading to accusation of it being subversive; and my favorite, Julius Sterling Morton, founder of Arbor Day, the plant a tree day.
We officially observe National Arbor Day on the last day of April, giving it a different date each year.
My favorite post on facebook this year was the "Happy Earth Day, May The Forest Be With You" sign surrounded by trees. Trees are so very essential to our well being. Trees are natural filters of air and ground water, oxygen and water are the essence of our well being. Trees remove carbon dioxide and pollutants from our environment. A single tree can absorb 26 pounds of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change each year. Plus, one mature tree in a year provides the same amount of oxygen. About 13 pounds, as much as is consumed by four people in a year.
So, in goes the good air when we breath, and out goes the bad air, when we exhale, that nourishes the trees. A well developed canopy can be a dustmop, intercepting up to 50 pounds of dust, and pollen particles a year. Their roots filter out pollutants in our ground water, recharging our aquifers and to help hold the soil in place to prevent erosion.
They assist in run-off and storm water control. We need food, so some trees provide us with fruits and nuts. They provide esthetic appeal to our properties. Landscapes enhanced by trees are more inviting to look at and live in, giving us a calming peace, a better resale value, and are natural air conditioners.
Industrially, they provide the wood to build our homes, furniture, fences, etc. They are processed to provide us with paper products. When not replaced, which happens too many times, we suffer a great environmental loss. We truly need a nation of "Stewards of The Land."
I just came back from two weeks visiting my daughter in the Maryland / Washington, D.C., area, and it was my pleasure to visit our National Arboretum. I went only to visit our state tree in the National Grove of State Trees. I wanted to see how they grew our sabal (cabbage) palm, which is also South Carolina's state tree. I found they had fudged and substituted a bald cyprus for our tree and a swamp white oak for South Carolina's tree.
It is a research and educational facility, with a living museum there. Established in 1927, it is the principal in-house research arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It's entrance garden is the largest designed herb garden in our nation. There are four distinct pavilions in the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. Twenty-two sandstone columns that once stood at the east portico of our U.S. Capitol are statuary located at the heart of arboretum.
It was Cherry Blossom Festival time, but their spring was early. They were mourning the loss of massive blooms, but there were still some blossoms left when I got there. It seemed as though every gust of wind sent those blossom petals falling and flying like snowflakes.
This was the 100th anniversary of the planting of the first cherry trees. I watched the nationally televised, 2 1/2hour parade with floats, balloons and stars, narrated by Alex Trebeck. The whole area was ablaze with apple blossoms, dogwoods, redbuds, and amazing azaleas. Spring in D.C. and Maryland is a colorful heaven!
Every day should be Earth Day.
An American Indian saying: "Man is the only animal to foul its nest."
Ben Franklin said, "When the well is dry, we know the value of water." Let's not wait until our environment is ruined and it's too late to fix it.
Albert Einstein told us, "We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive." Does Earth Day really matter? It does if we care.
Then there is the thought by Mohandas (Mahatma) K. Gandhi, "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed." Let's waste not and want not!
Don't forget to thank a tree.
Joyce Comingore is master gardener; Ft. Myers/Lee County Garden Council; member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral