Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Op-Ed: Earth Day - 50 Years And Counting

By Joanne Shafer, Recycling Coordinator, Centre County

April 22, 1970:  I was in the ninth grade at Westlake Junior High School in Erie, Pennsylvania.  I had been in Pennsylvania less than a year after our family had moved there the previous July from Northern New Jersey.  
My hometown was 11 miles from the George Washington Bridge; our apartment over a luncheonette one block from the Passaic River.  
We all knew not to fish in the river and certainly not to come anywhere near the effluent flowing from a variety of manufacturing facilities into the river.  
The smell from a chemical plant just a few blocks away was a constant.  If I close my eyes and imagine myself there I can still smell the acidity in the air. 
So, when the opportunity arose to attend the “Pollution Probe” at Westlake I begged my parents to allow me to go.  I’d like to claim that it was altruism. Please don’t tell my Dad that it was really an excuse to stay out all night for the first time.
After Dad dropped me at the school late evening (we were locked in and not allowed to leave till our parents came for us the next morning), I joined several of my new friends in the auditorium.  
On the screen was a haunting image of the baby buggy from Rosemary’s Baby.  What followed blew me away: images of the burning Cuyahoga River, chromium contamination, Pogo cartoons (We have met the enemy and he is us) and oil spills.
Only later did I learn that this was part of the “teach in” that comprised the very first Earth Day. 
And folks started to talk about conserving resources, stopping pollution, cleaning up the rivers and recycling. 
For the last 30 years, I’ve been privileged to be part of one of Pennsylvania’s best recycling and solid waste programs.  And, 50 years after that first Earth Day a whole generation of Pennsylvanians have known nothing but easily available recycling.  
What Centre Countians have accomplished by just recycling is nothing short of remarkable.  
In the last 19 years alone, you have recycled enough to create the domestic equivalent in environmental benefits to save:
-- 573,147 households’ worth of annual energy;
-- 740,700 homes worth of annual electricity use; and
-- Saved the emissions from a whopping 1,073,264 passenger cars!
Oh, and the Cuyahoga River was named “River of the Year” in 2019 to honor “50 Years of Environmental Resurgence”.  
In these troubled times with COVID-19 dominating our lives, changes that none of us could have foreseen, empty streets, and children out of school, take a moment, pause and breathe the air you have made better.  
Remember what Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”  
You have made a difference, Centre County.  You have.
[Visit the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority website for more information on recycling, household hazardous waste collection and waste management in the county.]
(Photo: Joanne Shafer and her daughter.)
Earth Day 50 PA
Visit the Earth Day 50 PA website for more special events, Earth Day 1970 remembrances, environmental reading lists and more.
Related Articles:
Centre County Postpones Household Hazardous Waste Collection Event To Nov. 20-21
Related Articles - Remembering  Earth Day 1970:
Related Articles- Earth Day:
Op-Ed: 50th Earth Day: Time To Consider Wiser Course - We Are All Of This Earth And Dependent On It - Bernie McGurl, Lackawanna River Conservation Association
Op-Ed: Earth Day 1970 Changed My Life - Carol Collier, The Academy Of Natural Sciences
Op-Ed: Earth Day 50: A Wakeup Call To The Scientific Community - Science Matters -Roland Wall, Director, Ruth Patrick Center For Environmental Research
DEP’s Blog: By Acting On Climate, We Help Make Every Day Earth Day - DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell
[Posted: April 23, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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