The following editorial represents the collective opinion of editorial boards of the following papers owned by Lee Enterprises: The Southern Illinoisan, Carbondale; The Pantagraph, Bloomington; Herald & Review, Decatur; and Journal-Gazette & Times-Courier, Mattoon.
The Earth is indeed a huge and imposing place. Making a positive mark on even a small piece of it requires a gargantuan effort, and sometimes even those efforts aren't enough.
So are we arrogant in marking the 48th annual Earth Day today? Possibly.
But if every person does what they can, wouldn't that make enough of a difference to make our brief existence on this blue ball even slightly more bearable and less terrible?
Our efforts so far seem to have made a difference so far. Deadly pesticides have been banned or regulated. Waters have been cleaned. Drinking water is safer. Species on the edge of extinction have rebounded. The hole in the ozone layer appears to be healing. “Green” building is becoming more prevalent. So is “green” energy consumption.
Even more encouraging is the everyday recycling available to every person in Southern Illinois. That's the classic and easy example of something everyone can do. There's no extra effort in putting waste in a bin specific to its potential future use.
You don't have to do everything. You just have to do what you can.
Unfortunately, the current administration has been acting swiftly on its policy shift away from environmental protection. The Environmental Protection Agency doesn't seem as interested in protecting the environment any more. The Clean Power Plan, designed to work toward renewable energy and low-income energy efficiency, has been targeted for repeal. The United States defied the world — the entire world — by pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. National monuments are being scaled back. Construction continues on the Keystone Pipeline. The administration is populated with climate change deniers.
Perhaps some of our present environmental changes would have taken care of themselves. Maybe the ozone layer hole is something that has opened and closed for thousands or millions of years?
On the other hand, do we really miss chlorofluorocarbons, the gas produced by specific refrigeration and air conditioning, aerosol propellants and cleaning agents? We've found a way to replace them with things that appear to be better and safer.
Comedian George Carlin was not a fan of those who claimed their desire and task was to save the planet. “We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet,” he said. “We haven’t learned to care for one another — we’re gonna save the … planet? … The planet will shake us off like a bad case of fleas, a surface nuisance.”
Fatalistic, certainly, and maybe Carlin had a point. Perhaps the best way to treat our impending demise is to ignore the planet we share and exploit it for all we can, waiting for the inevitable explosion or implosion.
Try running that by a parent who's sincerely trying to make the world a better place for their children.
We've had successes in taking responsibility for what we have done to the planet, and we've had our failures that we like less to either acknowledge or attempt to reverse. For better or worse, this is our home, and how we treat it (and leave it) will reflect on us as long as people remember mankind.
When it's put that way, maybe throwing fast food wrappers out of car windows is insignificant.
But when you're walking on a clean sidewalk or driving on a roadway that's been tended to, that makes a world of difference to your eye and to your mind.
In those cases, it really is a big deal when someone takes the time to tend to a fellow human's carelessness and thoughtlessness.
Those who pick up are doing what they can, and making the world a better place.