Thursday, April 19, 2007

Reflections on Activism for Earth Day, 2007

Reflections on Activism for Earth Day, 2007
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Today marks the 37th anniversary of the first Earth Day, the day in 1970 that twenty million Americans came out to move environmental issues to the top of the national agenda. The depth and complexity of the environmental challenges we face today are equally, if not more, daunting than the challenges of the past. But it is important to remember that those challenges are not all the same because we have made some important gains since that first Earth Day.

As we look to the future, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that people in east central Illinois have participated in and benefited from environmental activism.

Have you visited Busey Woods in Urbana recently? When you are there next, take time to remember that this fifty-nine-acre remnant of what was once a ten-square mile forest was slated for development as an industrial park in the late 1960s. Had concerned citizens not come together to fight for its preservation, there would be no Busey Woods today. Now part of the Urbana Park District, the woods provides a haven for wildlife and a nearby retreat for urban dwellers. It is also home to numerous programs conducted by the park district that provide children an important connection with the natural world.

Have you enjoyed the sight of woodland wildflowers blooming in the bottomland forest at the U of I’s Robert Allerton Park this spring? Do you hike, bike, hunt, fish or canoe on the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River? As with Busey Woods, these places were preserved for recreation and ecological values by the direct action of concerned citizens and the political leaders who came to share their perspective.

Activism is alive and well today, too.

Activism is the force that last year prompted Illinois lawmakers to protect the health of people and the environment by requiring coal-fired power plants to reduce their mercury emissions by 90% over the next six years.

Activism is the energy that moved U of I students this Spring to adopt a new fee that will support efforts to make the U of I a living, learning laboratory where researchers and students can devise ways to make human activity sustainable.

Activism informs the technological innovation that produces super-energy-efficient buildings, such as the houses constructed by Ecological Construction Laboratory in Urbana, and the new Business Instructional Facility on the U of I campus.

Activism is at work when farmers and homeowners treat land and waterways with respect, recognizing that the true costs of pesticide and fertilizer misuse are borne by the land community as a whole, not just the person who purchases them.

Activism is the spirit that moves volunteers to spend their free time restoring prairies, counting birds and cleaning up streams.

Activism is alive every time a person walks or bicycles or takes the bus rather than jumping into a car.

Now, none of this is to say there’s smooth sailing ahead. But as we confront urban sprawl and our dependence on harmful chemicals, as we face the threats posed by invasive species and global warming, we do so in the knowledge that activism works.