Every day should be Earth Day

By Tony Pizza, Sports Editor

Once upon a time, April 22 was organized to bring awareness to environmental issues such as overpopulation and eventually incorporated items such as recycling, global warming and the like.

When Sen. Gaylord Nelson conceptualized Earth Day in 1970, environmental issues were at the tip of society’s conscious. Now, every day is Earth Day. The generation between 18 and 28 years of age grew up with the images of plastic soda can holders around seagulls’ necks and fish swimming in toxic waste. We know the importance of recycling, the dwindling supply of natural gas and the dangers of deforestation and greenhouse gases.

The importance of restricted water use and smarter light bulbs are as common as learning to brush one’s teeth, or doing bunny ears and putting the loop through the hole.

In the 1970s, curbside recycling programs in numerous major U.S. cities and reusable grocery bags were part of every hippie’s utopia. These innovations are now commonplace.
Whether we want to or not, the globe is going green. So green, in fact, that your parent’s notion of Earth Day is now obsolete. That’s not to say that environmental awareness shouldn’t have a designated day, it just has to evolve.

Contrary to the notion of “Zero Population Growth,” the Earth’s population has almost doubled from 3.69 billion to 6.7 billion, according to a U.N. report. In North America, that growth has been less, with an increase of only 100 million in nearly 40 years. Regardless of how you slice it, that’s more people using more fossil fuels, producing more waste that’s toxic to both the atmosphere and water, and utilizing more of the Earth’s precious resources.

Whether by housing development, prospect drilling sites, or simply more people having that desire to “get out and play,” the trickle-down effect of the Earth becoming more populated is that our recreation places are being affected.

As much as anywhere in North America, Utah has recreation sites that are as spectacular in their beauty as they are magnificent in their accessibility. Utah might be America’s outdoor playground, but there are increasingly more people playing there. This isn’t a column about excluding people from enjoying this playground, but more about taking the consciousness that Nelson tried to make mainstream 39 years ago, and applying it to the place that should be a no-brainer.

Utah’s lakes and reservoirs are perhaps the most popular summer recreation spots in the state. Being responsible for one’s own trash is so elementary, I feel slightly embarrassed for mentioning it. Being responsible for one’s trash doesn’t stop at making sure that a can of lemonade makes it into a garbage bag, but making sure that garbage bag and its contents make it into a trash receptacle.

How many times have you been on Echo Reservoir, Lake Powell or Jordanelle and seen trash collecting near the banks because someone was negligent enough to not dispose of his or her trash properly? The common adage of leaving something better than you found it has to apply to every person enjoying the outdoors in this day and age, but human efforts have to go beyond that. Being responsible and proactive are vital for everyone to have the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. Last year, the Utah Legislature made it illegal to possess or transport invasive quagga and zebra mussels that were damaging power and water infrastructures and the water ecosystems in which boats were using. This is one example of how one bad apple (e.g., one negligent or ignorant boater) can ruin the whole bunch.
The next example, however, blew me away.

“Leave no trace” is an ethical movement that encourages outdoor enthusiasts to explore the land, but preserve the past, avoid introducing non-native items to an area and minimize human impact in wilderness areas in general. I was shocked after exploring Escalante last year to find that someone had violated the leave no trace pact in every way imaginable. In the wilderness, people are expected to dig at least an eight-inch hole, away from any established trail when having a bowel movement. The toilet paper is then to be stored, not buried, with the hiker’s other trash and removed from the area. The shock of seeing that not only had someone violated these courtesies of the wilderness, but added a Fruit Roll-Up, fruit snack and granola bar wrapper to the fray, along with a trail of toilet paper that could have refreshed a herd of mule deer twice over, was the equivalent of putting a pet to sleep. It was that disturbing watching someone violate every other person’s right to experience the area in as close to natural circumstances as possible. One of the most alluring qualities of being out in the wilderness is to escape society for a while, not to be introduced to the trace of human beings in the most unflattering way possible.

Earth Day has evolved from its beginnings and it’s more about everyone leaving the smallest trace of their waste as possible, not only in the wilderness, but in everyday life.

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