Earth Day should be every day, local activists say

NEWPORT — Earth Day may seem like a relatively new concept, but it’ll turn 50 in 2020.

The first Earth Day commenced with a focus on air and water pollution and helped boost awareness of increasing depletion of whale populations worldwide. That was in 1970, and the iconic blue and humpback whales were plastered all over posters and some were paper mâché giant icons that led the marchers on a pathway of civic engagement and political action tied to the planet’s degraded ecosystems, including those in cities.

On April 22, 1970, millions of people took to the streets to bring voice to the planet and hold corporations responsible in large part for the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development.

In the U.S. and around the world, smog alerts were common, turning deadly. This helped scientists and health experts to connect growing air, water, food and soil pollution to developmental delays in children, respiratory ailments and cancers in both young and old.

Almost five decades ago, biologists supported by universities proved global biodiversity was in decline as a result of the heavy use of pesticides and other pollutants and overexploitation of forests and seas.

All of this propelled a sea change in Washington DC, pushing politicians, media and the average citizen to become aware of ecological challenges. The US Congress and President Richard Nixon responded to the pressure, and in July of the same year, they created the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as significant environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, among many.

Lincoln County has its own reasons to observe Earth Day — it borders a huge body of water suffering from acidification and hypoxia.

Interestingly, the Earth Day theme for the big groups organizing it last year was “End Plastic Pollution.” Many organizations – thousands – were working on ending single-use plastics and promoting alternatives to fossil fuel-based materials, as well as pushing for 100 percent recycling of plastics, corporate and government accountability, and changing human behavior concerning plastics.

That has become the strategy of non-profits and grassroots groups – educating citizens so they can become active players in demanding governments and corporations control and clean-up plastic pollution.

Most environmental issues, whether it’s stopping the slaughter of whales or curbing pesticide use, go to the core of the topic at hand by looking for frameworks from which to regulate.

Getting entire groups of people and communities to take personal responsibility for whichever consumptive practice is producing more and more negative environmental effects, such as plastics, involves educating them on how to live a life of reducing, refusing, reusing, recycling and removing.

This year’s theme is Protect our Species. That includes the threatened and endangered species that are both rare, like the white rhino, snow leopard or the killer whale pod living in the Puget Sound. However, there are more threads to the environmental quilt that are not just frayed, but outright missing in huge patches. We are losing many insect species, and birds around the world are becoming fewer in terms of sheer numbers and diversity. Writer and researcher Elizabeth Kolbert made popular the science community’s assessment that we are in the Sixth Mass Extinction.

I’m teaching PK12 in the schools. I just became a member of both Surfrider and the American Cetacean Society. I also am closely tied to Oregon’s writing communities, and my hope is to get more involved in the ones out here on the coast.

I posed four fundamental questions to many environmental and conservation-minded people, tied to the value, meaning and effectiveness of Earth Day awareness and celebration campaigns -- 

1. Students ask, “What’s one thing I can do for the environment?” Give us your best answer here.

2. Earth Day is going on 50 years in 2020. What is one big issue -- and why -- you are concerned about that needs addressing not only in the USA/Lincoln County but globally?

3. What is one big change you have seen to your community you've been in the past few years tied to the environment?

4. Tell us your favorite or most memorable time in "wilderness" or "nature."

For Charlie Plybon, Oregon Policy Manager of Surfrider Foundation, his eye is on individual habits and consumption choices:

“Consider the source and eventual fate of your purchases and consumption habits - think about that before you buy it,” he said. “From foods to plastics, we need to understand the full impacts of what we purchase and consume. Buy local, reduce consumption or avoid ‘single-use’ items, compost, grow food and plant trees.”

It makes sense to look at the area’s youth as future leaders in the movement to stop the pollution and mitigate the effects of global warming. Martin Desmond, 67, is a volunteer for Citizens Climate Lobby and has been in Newport for six years.

“The most effective action that students can take is to become involved with getting carbon reduction legislation passed at the local, state, and federal levels,” he stated.

For someone who has been here on the coast for 46 years, Scott Rosin, 70, has a simple answer for students to abide by: “Be aware of your effect on the environment every waking minute and act accordingly in a positive manner. If you can transcend to effective action instead of bogus rationalizations or despair, do so.”

For 42-year-old Plybon, with 19 years as a resident of South Beach, is concerned about several big issues the country and Lincoln County have to face.

“Climate change and water,” Plybon stated. “The inhabitability of our earth will be the challenge of the next generations - that's not an environmental issue, that's an everybody issue. Today's kids are asking what next, will we have a place to live?”

Rosin, on the other hand, goes right back to the plastics on the beaches and in the oceans, which now account for millions of marine birds perishing as well as turtles, seals and sea lions, whales and dolphins choking or starving to death. Every apex predator in the ocean – including those that we end up eating – has microplastics in their blood and flesh.

“Plastic pollution in the environment and particularly the ocean is a death sentence for most animals larger than mice, as surely as the Yucatan Meteor was 66 million years ago,” he said. “The difference is that event and outcome (to channel T. S. Eliot) was practically instantaneous (a bang,) whereas what we face will take years (a whimper.)”

Earth should be celebrated

Celebrating wilderness is probably the best bet for any Earth Day participant. Get out in the woods, on the mountaintops, in the rivers and ocean. Remember those powerful spiritual moments in nature and then fight for those same memories for future generations to experience.

For Plybon, making large connections to one species has been amazing. 

“Fishing in Alaska with my dad —  behind the big sockeye run  — for trout, everything makes sense,” he said. “My family and existence, the idea of ‘salmon nation,’ the connections of the forest and wildlife to a single species’ migration and reproduction make this world feel fragile and inexplicably connected.”



Here, for a list of Monday’s Newport speakers:

Citizens' Climate Lobby - Newport Group and 350 Oregon Central Coast will be sponsoring an Earth Day celebration from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm, Monday, April 22nd at the Newport Public Library.

Mark Saelens, District Manager for the Solid Waste District of Lincoln County, will speak about the county’s recycling and sustainability efforts. Saelens is a former Newport City Councilor.

Martin Desmond, volunteer for Citizens’ Climate Lobby – Newport group, will give an update of HB 2020, the carbon reduction bill that is moving through the Oregon State Legislature. The Joint Committee on Carbon Reduction is expected to pass out the bill on Earth Day. Desmond will briefly speak about the development of climate action plans for Lincoln County.

Rio Davidson, owner of Cascade Coast Solar, will discuss the potential of solar energy installation in commercial and residential homes in Lincoln County. Cascade’s solar systems typically pay for themselves and start saving money on energy bill in seven years to ten years.

Jason Gonzales, the Forest and Watershed Campaign Organizer of Oregon Wild, will speak about impacts to forests in the Oregon Coast Range. Gonzales grew up near Sierra Nevada mountains, exploring the granite domes, freezing rivers, and giant pines on public lands around Yosemite National Park.

Aimee Thompson of Thompson’s Sanitary Services will discuss current recycling and disposal procedures. Thompson’s is offering free compost, Saturday April 20 near its main office, 7450 NE Avery Street, Newport, in celebration of Earth Day while supplies last, limited to one pick-up load per person.

Organizations that will have informational tables include Oregon Wild, Cascade Coast Solar, Thompson’s Sanitary Services, Lincoln County Community Rights, Friends of Yaquina Lighthouse, Oceana Natural Foods Co-Op, Citizens Climate Lobby – Newport group and 350 Oregon Central Coast. Light refreshments will be served.