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By Amy Smith, MS, Full-time Faculty Member
Earth Day is the time when we can come together to help protect the earth and our natural resources. When Earth Day began in 1970, the goal was to implement changes in policy and action to protect the planet. We wanted to understand how human activities impacted water, air, and land, and how we can alter our actions to make a cleaner environment. We have come a long way since that first Earth Day, and now "going green" is a common practice for people across the country and around the world. Over time we have learned that we should recycle, reduce our energy use, drive less, and walk more, but sometimes we lose sight of why we do these things. For over 30 years, Earth Day has taken on the challenge of educating the public about issues the planet has faced, from pollution to policy. Now that we know how to better protect the planet, it is time that we revisit the reasons why we wanted to do these things in the first.
Whether you walk along a wooded trail near your home or hike the backcountry far from civilization, many find a spirituality in nature; something that cannot be defined, but can be felt when surrounded by it. Unfortunately, not everyone has had the opportunity to find this connection with the natural world, and if you are one of these people, I hope this essay sparks your interest to find your own personal piece of nature to connect with.
For city-dwellers, it can seem as though they are only surrounded by the built environment of humans, and that there are few opportunities to connect with nature. But, with a closer look, even a city can provide a chance to discover why we choose to preserve our planet. Looking outside a window, city-dwellers might see a tree on the sidewalk, a grassy median, or a green space surrounding a drainage ditch. These patches of green are not accidental, but rather are placed in cities because people crave nature, and cities need these natural elements to balance the built environment.
Compact development is more efficient than sprawl. In suburban areas, you will find houses of immense size, with more rooms than people, on acres of land that nobody walks on, and where no food is grown. Suburban sprawl takes land that was once rural or agricultural, and separates it from nature. If we really want to preserve nature for our pleasure and benefit, then living in the city is the most environmentally conscious choice.
People living in cities use less energy than people living in suburbs. Because cities offer services within a shorter distance to home, there's a reduced need to drive. People living closer together also have a better social bond, leading to less loneliness and even less crime as neighbors watch out for each other. The vibrant cities of Europe with smaller streets, fewer cars, and an enhanced mix of residential, commercial, and park space provide a good example of how cities can improve efficiency. Here in the U.S., per capita, New York City is the most efficient and green living city. It consumes the least energy and produces the least solid waste than anywhere else in the country. Rather than spreading people across the countryside, New York City consolidates people with services, restaurants, shopping, schools, and entertainment venues. Additionally, Central Park is the best known and most visited City Park in the country. The combination of nature and city benefits both humans and the environment.
This Earth Day, challenge yourself to change your question from "how can I help the environment?" to "why do I need to help the environment?" By taking the time to answer this question, you can change your outlook on what's really important in the daily actions of environmental protection. We have come a long way since that first Earth Day, but there is still work to be done. Find your connection to nature and rediscover why it is important for you to be a part of saving our natural resources.
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