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The human face of Earth Day

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This week marks the 38th anniversary of Earth Day, which began in 1970 as a series of rallies aimed at focusing national attention on environmental degradation. An estimated 20 million people, mostly students, participated in Earth Day festivities that year by participating in tree-plantings, beach cleanups, litter patrols, demonstrations, impassioned speeches and rock concerts.

This week the airwaves and pages of newspapers are full of stories about how all of us can do more to take better care of Planet Earth. We are encouraged to do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint - drive energy-efficient automobiles or take public transportation, preserve national parks and wilderness areas, reduce the use of pesticides, consume less, recycle more and, in general, clean up our collective act.

It is a good message and one we ought to all take to heart if we're at all interested in preserving the beauty and bounty of our world, which at times seems like its under siege from every direction. The disappearance this year of Oregon's prized spring salmon is another disturbing sign in what seems like a downward environmental spiral.

Environmental stewardship begins at home with measures as simple as turning the lights off when leaving a room, taking aluminum containers to the recycling center, driving an energy-efficient vehicle or practicing catch-and-release fishing.

In many ways Oregon, home of the bottle bill, Oregon Renewable Energy Act and many other conservation-minded initiatives, is a world leader in promoting sustainable living. This is a legacy for which every Oregonian can be proud, and one that has produced an environment that other communities aspire to.

There is another side to Earth Day. The message that often gets forgotten amid all the hype is the human suffering that has taken place in the name of sustainability.

Long forgotten are the Oregon loggers who took their own lives because they could no longer provide for their families because activist federal judges were more concerned about providing habitat for spotted owls. The plight of school districts and municipalities in resource-dependent areas that have been ravaged by the loss of timber dollars isn't making the evening news. The word is that at least two Oregon counties this year are going to default on their fiscal responsibilities and leave it to the state to pay their bills because the timber dollars are gone. What about the once robust Oregon cities that are now veritable ghost towns because of knee-jerk environmental policies promoted by leaders of the environmental movement, who are all for conservation as long as they don't have to park their Volvo. We need to honor and acknowledge the farmers, ranchers, and foresters who took care of the land for generations before Earth Day was cool and have borne more than their share of the cost of green initiatives.

The talking heads on T.V. this week probably won't be discussing how hands-off management of national parks and wilderness areas has spawned catastrophic wildfires that have blackened millions of acres of public land, destroyed homes, polluted the air and led to the deaths of dozens of brave firefighters across the American West. They probably won't be talking about how the conversion to ethanol fuel is promoting starvation around the world by raising food prices, or how it is leading to destruction of the Amazon rainforest by farmers cutting down trees so they can plant crops that can be turned to fuel. Environmental leaders will be eager to stand up on camera this Earth Day and advocate reducing national dependence on foreign oil. They will be quick to criticize anybody who advocates tapping domestic reserves in Alaska or ramping up development of, God forbid, nuclear power plants without offering an alternative that they, themselves are willing to live with. The cities of Las Vegas and Los Angeles aren't about to ask their citizens to cover the cost of desalinization so they can quit sucking the Colorado River, Owens Valley and Sacramento Delta dry.

We probably won't be privy to reports about environmental leaders living in 4,000-square-foot homes made of Canadian lumber and exotic South American hardwoods, driving gas-guzzling SUVS, eating salmon or sushi or flying around the globe on expensive vacations to exotic destinations.

No, it will be the same elites standing on their soapboxes admonishing farmers, ranchers, miners, loggers and everybody else to do not as they do but as they say. At the end of the day they will climb into their Hummers or onto private jets and head for the wild blue yonder, content that their message will change the fate of our planet.

Rick Swart is publisher of the South County Spotlight. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.