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by Robin M. Giroux
April 15, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 15

While I was thinking about Earth Day—April 22—and what it means to me, Aretha Franklin’s signature song “Respect” started playing in my head, and promptly lodged there. After all, the day is designated for us to show our respect for our home planet, and it encourages behavior that folks should aim to demonstrate year-round—being mindful of Earth and all it holds.

Earth Day is an international demonstration of support for the environment that was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1970 and went global in 1990. Nearly 200 nations participated in last year’s event, and the 1.4 billion hits to a Google search on “Earth Day 2013” attest to the breadth of planned activities for this year.

Earth Day and its supporters have effected powerful change; for example, the Environmental Protection Agency was created after the first Earth Day helped show the strength of the environmental movement, according to the agency.

Although I appreciate the need for the weightier events, I gravitate to the simpler, homespun ones. For this reason, the Earth Day Network’s 2013 theme, “The Face of Climate Change,” resonates with me.

Through this year’s effort, the network seeks to “personalize the massive challenge climate change presents by telling the world these stories through images.” Folks around the world are invited to submit photographs depicting not only people, animals, and places affected by climate change but also those stepping up to do something about climate change.

The Nature Conservancy is planning to observe the day with Picnic for Earth, which it bills as a “celebration of the planet we live on, the food it provides and the people we share it with.” The group says, “In short, the planet does a lot for us, and we should take it out for lunch.”

The American Chemical Society is doing its part through Chemists Celebrate Earth Day, a program that is enjoying its 10-year anniversary this year. The 2013 theme is “Our Earth: Handle with Care!” and the focus is on the general topics of water, air, plants/soil, and recycling. The program challenges chemists to be Earth advocates and offers events, contests, and educational resources for members, chemical educators, and chemistry enthusiasts to illustrate the positive role that chemistry plays in preserving Earth.

Earth Day roughly corresponds with Arbor Day in the U.S., and a traditional way to celebrate both events is by planting a tree.

For folks who want to organize their own events for either just themselves or a group, the website lists some ways to mark the day. The suggestions include recycling and reusing, cleaning up litter, and setting up a swap event where folks can trade items that might otherwise end up in a landfill.

Skimming the list sent me back to my childhood. Both my parents grew up during the Great Depression, and they were a young family during World War II. (I’m the youngest of five kids, so I wasn’t even a gleam at this time.) Reusing and recycling wasn’t an option for them, it was a necessity. They kept their home neat and tidy because they were proud to have a home. And hand-me-downs or -overs were welcomed as well as offered.

I was raised to treat people and things, both natural and man-made, with respect. We didn’t take or buy more than we needed, nor did we discard items solely because we didn’t like them anymore. Value was not determined by one person’s interest. Water and energy conservation was routine. But my parents didn’t make a big deal out of this; it was simply the way we lived. And to a large part, the way my husband and I live now.

To me—and I realize I am oversimplifying—being environmentally responsible means being mindful of Earth and its riches. So when I read about events and programs that promote that thinking and lifestyle, it does my heart good.

Which brings me back to that song stuck in my head. (Did you notice that Aretha and Earth are almost anagrams?) So join me in the chorus, won’t you? “All I’m askin’ is for a little respect … (just a little bit)” for our home, and not just on Earth Day, but every day.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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