Earth Day concerns 

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Protestors holding climate change banners at a protest
Over the last 50 years, we have learned that climate change is about far more than 'global warming.' (Adobe Stock Image)

There are plenty of reasons to despair these days — mass shootings at public events and schools (from elementary schools to universities), plastics polluting oceans and killing whales and seabirds, communities that lack safe drinking water and increasingly common catastrophic weather events.

The list is long and discouraging. But on Earth Day 2019, let’s address climate change as the greatest existential threat to the planet and civilization today.

This is not my opinion. It’s a scientific fact. People can choose to ignore facts, but that does not negate them.

The earth is not flat. The earth is more than 4 billion years old. Polar ice packs and mountain glaciers are melting. Rising ocean levels have already displaced human populations from low lying oceanic island nations.

Addressing and solving these concerns is far beyond my pay grade, but climate change is within my purview. I learned of its inevitability in college back in the early 1970s. At that time, I encountered the term “greenhouse effect.”

Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels would someday warm the planet.

That day has arrived. Over the last 50 years, we have learned that climate change is about far more than “global warming.” And we have come to understand that ocean currents and temperatures also influence global climate.

Climate change now connotes more frequent extreme weather and its consequences — bigger storms, hotter summers, warmer oceans, colder winters, longer droughts, more frequent floods and more powerful hurricanes…

What can ordinary citizens do?

1. Listen to scientists. In the 1960s, they got us to and from the moon.

Biologists and medical researchers cracked the genetic code, eradicated diseases and discovered the promise of stem cells. Environmental scientists spawned the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Act.

Computer scientists transformed the world with computers and the internet.

This just scratches the surface, but it’s safe to say science has made the world a much better, safer place.

2. Ignore politicians, entertainment and sports celebrities, and other demagogues who spew opinions and beliefs to enrich themselves. 

3. Educate yourself. Smithsonian, Scientific American, Discover and Natural History are just some of the popular magazines that tackle all aspects of modern science.

4. Everyone can live a smarter, more earth-friendly life. Transition away from all forms of plastic. Carry your own fabric bags to the grocery store, and eschew plastic bags.

Recycle plastics, paper, glass and metal, even if it comes at a small cost.

Use less water, especially if you rely on a well. Take shorter showers. Reduce the use of chemicals and water on lawns.

5. Take inspiration from some of my favorite words to live by. 

“I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use our natural resources, but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or rob by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.” 

— Theodore Roosevelt 

“A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from his children.” 

— John James Audubon 

“The purpose of conservation: the greatest good to the greatest number of people for the longest time.” 

— Gifford Pinchot 

“For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death.” 

— Rachel Carson 

“The long fight to save wild beauty … requires citizens to practice the hardest of virtues — self-restraint.” 

— Edwin Way Teale 

“The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family.” 

— Chief Seattle 

“We cannot solve the problems we have created with the same thinking that created them.” 

— Albert Einstein 

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” 

— Baba Dioum

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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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