Opinion: We all need to be far more proactive in embracing environmental change, no matter how small, that will collectively make a difference.Opinion: We all need to be far more proactive in embracing environmental change, no matter how small, that will collectively make a difference.Read MoreThe Vancouver Sun – RSS Feed

Opinion: We all need to be far more proactive in embracing environmental change, no matter how small, that will collectively make a difference.

Sharing your garden with beneficial insects and pollinators is a good thing. You might lose a few leaves, but supporting their habitat is so important. jpg

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In the 1960s and ‘70s, I remember well how most of us thought the early environmentalists were really quite radical. Many of us labelled their demonstrations and publicity events around the world as “over-the-top” and “way-out-of-line.”

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How ironic, as we celebrate Earth Day this week, that we finally acknowledge how far ahead of their time they were, and how they could so clearly see what we so clearly couldn’t, or wouldn’t. As we are now suffering the consequences of our inaction and lack of foresight, we need to recognize their brilliance and courage in trying to attract our attention when it was needed the most.

Although we now embrace Earth Day, many of us have little knowledge of where and when it originated.

In the 1960s, as forward-thinking environmentalists were making a strong case for stopping outrageous pollution, for cleaning up our oceans, for protecting our fresh water supplies and for preventing further loss of wildlife habitat, there was one American politician who was paying close attention. As reported by Jack Lewis, an assistant editor of the EPA Journal (The Spirit of the First Earth Day, Jan./Feb. 1990 edition), Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, had become very frustrated with his fellow congressional colleagues who had little, if any, interest in environmental issues. Nelson was instrumental in making a connection between the environmental activists, the public and the American Congress.

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After a speech in Seattle in September 1969, voicing his environmental concerns, he received unprecedented coverage in Newsweek and Time magazines, as well as front-page coverage in The New York Times. This recognition prompted him to incorporate a non-profit, non-partisan organization called The Environmental Teach-In Inc. He was able to pull together a group of similar-thinking folks to lay the groundwork to “force the issue of the environment into the political dialogue of the country.”

With limited resources and volunteer help from many concerned environmental proponents, especially college and university students, from the many Teach-In events held in key public locations along with specific organizations and unions, Nelson and his colleagues at the Environmental Teach-In group gained considerable support across America. A brilliant move was to purchase a full-page ad in The Times in February 1970 announcing that April 22, 1970, would be the day for all Americans, all across the country, to demonstrate for a cleaner environment.

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Choosing plants that can stand-up to our extreme weather can be a challenge, but there are many durable varieties available today. jpg

The media coverage of this important event was unheard of at the time, but the result was 20 million Americans celebrating and demonstrating for a better environment. It was, in fact, one of the largest peaceful demonstrations in history. It also became a focus of ‘national environmental conscience’ and had an important impact on the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency in December of that year. The EPA’s mandate was broad: to enforce environmental protection standards consistent with national goals, to conduct research on the advent of pollution research and methods of control, and to assist other groups, through grants and technical assistance, to arrest pollution.

This was all 53 years ago in one country. Today Earth Day is celebrated in about 190 countries. The reality of significant climate change is affecting us globally. Severe weather events have increased dramatically, and the subsequent loss of lives, homes, livelihoods, food crops and wildlife habitat has certainly brought our current dilemma into much sharper focus.

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Global warming, and all its negative impact, is our greatest challenge as a country and we need to mitigate the production of carbon and be far more aggressive in finding ways to sequester it.

It’s imperative that we find better ways to reduce our use of plastics and other materials that leave a negative carbon footprint.

In our gardens we can, with very little extra effort, engage in several practices that will benefit our environment.

A few weeks ago, I talked about regenerative gardening to make our soils and plants sequester more carbon. Planting cover crops in our gardens and leaving leafy residues over winter will help protect and enhance soil quality. No-till gardening is now becoming mainstream, so earthworms and beneficial organisms are protected, and the ground becomes far more able to sequester carbon.

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Remember that some pollinators are active year-round. Grow flowering plants for all seasons to provide them with a steady source of pollen and nectar. jpg

Making your garden a pollinator, bird and butterfly haven will not only give you better pollination but will also help replace lost natural habitat.

Adding microclover to your lawn will naturally improve your soil and make it more environmentally friendly, but it’s also good to know that lawn grasses sequester carbon, and an average-size lawn produces enough oxygen for a family of four. Lawns also collect and filter polluting products so if you’re using gas powered mowers, you might consider the benefits of using electric or battery-operated implements instead. One or two inches of water a week on your lawn will keep it green and active all summer. To conserve water, especially this year with the lower snowpack, placing rain barrels at downspouts to collect roof run-off will provide a lot of water for use in the garden later when restrictions are imposed. Drip irrigation systems for baskets and containers are efficient ways to water without using hand-watering. Soaker hoses in vegetable gardens, in flower beds and alongside hedges also make very dedicated use of water and the moisture gets down to the roots where it’s needed most.

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I know there are enforced restrictions on tree planting in many strata complexes, but often smaller tree and shrub varieties are allowed. Japanese maples, especially the narrow forms like acer palmatum ‘Twombly’s Sentinel’ and many of the new columnar ornamental flowering trees take little space, but still provide canopy cover, helping to shade and cool surrounding areas, while sequestering carbon.

These are just a few little things we can do to reduce the carbon footprint around our homes to benefit the environment.

Every day is Earth Day, and 53 years after its inception, we all need to be far more proactive in embracing the changes, no matter how small, that will collectively make a difference.

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