We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. Aldo Leopold
On this Earth Day, 2021, the Number One Tip for helping the environment is – Education. Education is the key to a greener healthier future.
Today is the 51st Earth Day, and, strangely, I woke up at 4:22 on this April 22, 2021. Environmental issues far too often are distilled down to the numbers – scientifically derived statistics. But the trashing and plundering of our homeworld tears at the very heart of humanity. Policy is based on a numbers game, but no numbers can spur an individual person to clean up another’s mess. Poisoning ourselves and future generations has to be m
ore than a desolate numbers game. This is where Ecology enters the discussion. “Eco” is derived from the Greek oikos – home. And “ology” study of. This is our common home and our Mother Earth needs our help to clean house.
For five decades, this day has been marked with environmental “activities”: trash cleanups, tree plantings, and generally tidying up nearby green and blue spaces. Years ago, I used to develop environmental curriculum. I worked with scientists and experts to distill vast amounts of environmental data into information for classroom teachers. For example, to explain the 10 meter resolution of satellite imagery, I would use string to create a ten meter square “pixel” on the ground. All the teachers would then step inside this pixel and tell me what they saw. What percent was grass, trees, bushes, animals? I would tell them scientists didn’t know that data because anything below the satellite resolution was a black box. We needed their students eyes on the ground to tell us about their local environment. Ecology begins in backyards and schoolyards across the world.
In the past, around Earth Day I would join with dozens of environmental education professionals to teach teachers and children the ecology of biodiversity, pollution prevention, energy conservation, etc. Our goal was to increase awareness of environmental issues, in hopes of spurring people to action. And over the years, environmental education has had a positive impact. As a teacher, there are moments when you can actually see the impact as the light goes on in students’ eyes. Whether it is the passion in your voice, the emotions on your face, the sincerity of your caring – something sparks that radiance. Those moments are why we teach. As a university lecturer in writing and literature, each year I would take my Chinese students outside the classroom on a nature walk around the campus. We would share our observations of interesting things as we wandered. And then I let them leave early to explore and write about what they discovered. Mother Nature has inspired all artists.
The happiest classes though were the younger kids classes I taught with my wife. We had our own little classroom near the university grade school. We limited our classes to eight kids at a time. I taught them for an hour. Then we would switched and my wife taught them for an hour. Chinese kids science classes are often incredibly boring because they seldom did hands on activities. All my classes ended with an activity. Ecology is a deep foundation of Taoism and the Chinese arts. So I tapped into that cultural root to propagate ecological ideas in their eager young minds. The glow in their eyes showed me they got the message. As W.B.Yeats is quoted as saying, Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
This morning I read that American honey (and, most likely, other honey around the world) contains cesium-137 an isotope created as fallout during the above ground testing of nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 60s. Researchers found that there was an average of 870,000 atoms of cesium-137 per teaspoonful. They say that amount is “well below” the line for safe consumption. I’m fairly sure we all wish that number of radioactive atoms in our honey was zero. This number is known because four years ago a university assistant professor at William and Mary University asked his students to bring back local honey from their Spring Break. That teacher’s assignment lit a light in his students eyes, and by extension he has added fuel to my ecological lantern. Each of us can make a difference. Do not wait for big government meetings to act. Look around you and clean up a little. Shine a positive light for others to see. After a while it becomes a good habit. Happy Earth Day my friends. I’m heading to the ocean to do some spring cleaning.