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Reflecting on Earth Day

April 24, 2012
Tribune Chronicle |

''To a farmer, every day is Earth Day.''

While traveling in southern Ohio, I read this on the side of a barn surrounded by green productive crop fields. The farmer who painted these words understood better than most the relationship of the Earth and life itself, because this farm was sustaining life.

Fortunately, I was introduced to this concept as a child, helping my father to nurture plants that would produce tomatoes, peppers, beans, corn, cabbage and so much more. The lesson was how to take care of the Earth, so it would bring life to take care of us. My father would read the newsletters and pamphlets from the Soil and Water Conservation District, and then experimented with how this knowledge applied on his land.

In the Boy Scouts, knowledge and respect for the Earth was emphasized, especially at Camp Chickagami, where my brother Richard served as a staff instructor at the Nature Lodge. The lessons were how to explore and live in the wilderness, while leaving no trace.

There were constant respectful references to the people who occupied this land before the arrival of the European settlers. The culture of the Scouting program was rooted in the outdoorsman traditions of Teddy Roosevelt, who championed preservation of nature with National Parks many years ago.

This movement we called ''conservation'' then took on a new and expanded identity as ''environmentalism'' since the late 1960s. Several environmental disasters, like the Cuyahoga River fire, served as a national wakeup call.

More than a century of industrial revolution was inflicting noticeable damage to the Earth. Life-threatening health issues like cancer and respiratory diseases were being noticed in the presence of industrial waste toxins.

''No organism with a choice will live in the presence of toxins.'' Richard Cochran from the Western Reserve Land Conservancy quoted this at a meeting of the Western Reserve Land Conservation and Development Council meeting this month. Cochran's organization has been working to assist communities throughout northeast Ohio with blight removal, land banks and numerous projects to revitalize communities.

We discussed the need to restore funding for the Clean Ohio brownfield reclamation program, to clean old industrial properties for redevelopment. Without this, we can expect industries to build on greenfields, taking productive cropland out of production.

When homes were built over a buried waste dump known as Love Canal, new resources like ''Superfund'' were created to deal with these man-made disasters. Among the Love Canal residents, Lois Gibbs developed the knowledge and skills to deal with this catastrophe.

Then she worked to establish and lead the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, assisting people in other communities. Several years ago, I had the honor of meeting with Gibbs when she visited Trumbull County.

Balancing the need to protect the Earth with the need to supply our population with energy, materials and employment would be a challenge for King Solomon. I recall debates from the 1970s, when the visionary author Isaac Asimov spoke at YSU. A student asked if we could just eliminate the 20th Century industrial and agricultural technology that was causing pollution, and go back to a pre-technology existence. Asimov responded that we could do that, but half of the world's population would have to get off of the planet.

Every action, even if carefully evaluated, will have unintended consequences, such as environmental actions causing factories to close. This became all too real when our big steel mills closed three decades ago, and it continues today with closings of Ohio's coal-fired electrical generation plants.

Now we stand at the threshold of the shale gas industry that has the potential to bring good-paying jobs with lease payments to feed families in our economically devastated region, and to replace imported, air polluting petroleum with cleaner-burning natural gas. However, there are engineering questions to be answered about the safety of these wells, disposal of their waste materials, and impact on landowners and communities.

We need to resolve these ourselves, because King Solomon is no longer among us.

Pirko is a Weathersfield resident. Email him at



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