Earth Day—Every day!

We are fortunate to have people in the Rockford area committed to environmental quality who encourage people to make their lifestyles more compatible with sustainable, healthy living. As in past years, they organized the Earth Day celebration at Rock Valley College April 22. It included displays about healthy lifestyle and environmental quality, and guest speakers addressing a range of topics. We appreciated the opportunity to participate in the event, once again.

Jamie Johannsen, Director of Marketing & Community Relations for the Winnebago County Forest Preserve district, commented, “I was very pleased with the Earth Day event in general, and especially with the new element of presentations on various Green Living topics…. Because of this year’s success, we plan to follow a similar format for next year…. Helping people become informed and inspired about the problems and solutions is what the Earth Day event is all about.”

Last year, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report pointed out how planetary environmental conditions have deteriorated. Developed by 1,300 leading international scientists, it documents extensive damage imposed on global ecosystems over the past 50 years. Dramatic ecosystem changes include cod fishery collapse, coral reef degradation, tropical rain forest destruction, “dead zones” in the oceans resulting from urban and farm runoff, and dramatic species diversity destruction.

While there is more to the story, it is not the kind of news people like to hear. For several years, we attended a forest management conference. During a presentation about invasive species, one of the speakers acknowledged the topic was so depressing, he only agreed to present it because of its importance to forest health in the Midwest. Climate change, globalization, limited financial resources and a lack of public understanding of the problems all contribute to the destruction of species diversity around the globe and in our back yards.

We are rapidly losing the spring flora of our native oak forests. Trout lilies, wood anemones, bellwort, trilliums and Dutchmen’s-breeches are disappearing under the onslaught of invasive garlic mustard. Flowers that emerge before the oak trees are fully leafed out have graced the Midwest landscape since before the arrival of the first settlers. While ongoing efforts to preserve local floral diversity exist, our loss is a manifestation of a global problem.

Spring has always been seen as a time of celebration—a time of rebirth, a coming alive of the planet after its long winter’s rest. It was formerly marked by the near-deafening trill of frogs and toads—now seldom heard. Their sudden global decline over the past decade is another environmental warning of the need to change. We are undermining the planet’s ability to support life forms that have been present for hundreds of thousands of years.

We are all participants in the massive destruction of Earth’s life-supporting systems. We are consuming resources at a rate faster than the planet can repair itself. Some experts claim our environmental debt is equivalent to consuming another entire planet every three years.

We must make dramatic transitions in our lifestyles to develop a sustainable form of living. Our economic and political leaders have yet to give voice to this message: The American lifestyle must change. It is not a sustainable model for emulation by China, India or the rest of the world. Either we change voluntarily now while we can or we will endure ongoing resource wars that will further degrade human and environmental conditions.

Change happens when people become aware of a problem and take appropriate action. The decline in smoking is attributable to an aggressive campaign of raising awareness coupled with a call for action. Energy conservation, efficiency and renewable energy sources all involve actions that can help reduce the rate of environmental degradation.

Fortunately, the Winnebago County Health Department and the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District continue to keep the spirit of Earth Day alive.

From the May 3-9, 2006, issue

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