Earth Day 2007: A talk by Sharon Coughlin

22
Apr

Flowers.  Trees.  Birds.  These are all gifts that God has given to us.  We might take them for granted, because we see them every day.  But, what would you think if these things were missing from our lives?

Increasingly, scientists are warning us that great disruptions in the world’s climate have been recorded. Melting of polar ice caps.  Severe heat in Europe during the summer.  Hurricanes without equal in the record books.  Why is this happening? Did anyone see this coming?  This seems like a big problem.
Shouldn’t the world governments be doing something?  And, if the government is not, what can we, as a community, do about it?
 
In fact, scientists have been warning us since the 1970s, predicting that if we do not change our use of petroleum, there may be dire consequences.  I remember learning in school that burning of oil and gasoline leads to increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could increase the warmth that the earth retains.  Increased warmth could lead to increased global temperatures, with the possibility of severe weather and more hurricanes, stronger winds, and greater rainfall in certain areas.  Increased heatwaves and severe drought in others. Now I see those predictions coming true.
 
The earth really is delicately balanced.  Oxygen. Temperatures.  Rainfall.  The system is designed so that certain parameters are always maintained.  From our perspective, the earth and its climate seems like such a huge system, that few things could disrupt it.
We take things like constant air concentrations and predictable weather that varies with the seasons for granted.  We think that nothing can be powerful enough to affect the global ecosystem.  However, if we look just a little deeper, we discover hidden checks and balances that keep the system constant.
 
Air is composed of many elements, including carbon dioxide and oxygen.  These elements are found in concentrations that usually do not vary much.  We all know that oxygen is important for our survival.  However, how many of us realize that oxygen can also be lethal?  At concentrations of about 20%, the amount in our global atmosphere, we can live, and breathe, and not worry about chemical reactions that could be
damaging to our health.  However, at concentrations of 25%, only a small percentage more, oxygen is powerful enough to cause spontaneous burning of the plants and trees around us.  This is an example of how delicately balanced our environment really is. 
 
We are very fortunate for these checks and balances in the earth’s natural system that allow oxygen to stay at a consistent 20% concentration, allowing human life to exist!
 
Temperatures vary only a few degrees in each season.  In New Jersey, daily spring temperatures range from the 40s to the 60s.  During the summer, the daytime temperature may range from roughly the 70s to the 90s.  In the fall, we experience an average temperature range of the 40s to the 50s during the
day.  In the winter, we expect temperatures in the 20s to the 40s during the day.  This constancy of temperatures allow plants and animals native to New Jersey to successfully survive, reproduce, and return again, year after year.  What would happen if New Jersey’s seasonal temperatures, which have remained constant for hundreds of years, began to change?
Humans may be able to adapt to any abrupt, unusual changes in the weather.  But, one can only predict what plants and animals, who must live outside every day of the year, might do. 
Regular, predictable amounts of moisture fall in our state each year.  Snow falls during the winter, and melts in the spring.  Winter snowfall protects hibernating plants from the cold air and dry winter winds.  Melting snowfall in the spring provides a
gentle supply of moisture to growing trees and plants. Gentle rains come during the spring, allowing plants to grow and bloom.  Summer arrives, with its longer days, humid air, and possible thunderstorms.  Then, comes autumn, with its shorter days, cooler temperatures, and falling leaves.  We see this pattern year after year, season after season.
We might be inconvenienced if more rain falls than usual, or less snow falls and prevents us from enjoying winter sports.  But, take a moment to think about how this might affect the environment around us.
  
Change the parameters a little bit, and you will see populations of certain species start to decline.  Change it a little bit more, and you will see species start to die off.  Everything is in a delicate balance.  It is the constancy of weather and conditions that allows the variety of plants and animals we see to exist.
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Today is earth day.  Earth day was first held on April 22, 1970.  Senator Gaylord Nelson passed a bill designating April 22 as a national day to celebrate the earth.  It was a nationwide event, with well-known speakers and performers lending their support for the growing environmental movement.  Senator Nelson was motivated to create this day after witnessing a terrible oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California in 1969.  He was disgusted with the apparent lack of regard for the country’s natural resources, and wanted to demonstrate that people did care. 
 
That first Earth Day in 1970 was an important day.  It was a very popular event with the public, with 20 million Americans (brought) out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform.   It showed the overwhelming support of the public for protecting our
natural world.
 
Almost forty years later, this enthusiasm has continued on.  Today, Earth Day is observed in 175 countries around the world; it is the largest secular holiday in the world.
Senator Nelson credited the first Earth Day with convincing the United States’  politicians that the public was deeply concerned about the health of the environment, and would support environmental legislation to protect it.  Congress listened, and the Clean Air Act, (Clean Water Act), and laws to protect wild lands and the ocean were passed.  The public acted, and the politicians listened.
 
Maybe now is the time to show our overwhelming support
for the protection of the natural world once again.
 
So, what can we, as a community, or as individuals do? Learn as much as we can.  Become educated.  Donate to reputable nonprofit organizations that are working for change.  Vote for politicians who are concerned about the local and the global climate, and will listen to our views.  Follow suggestions on how to cut our usage of petroleum products.  Support research into
renewable sources of energy.
Our earth.  God’s gift to us.  Scientists have yet to find another planet like it.  Don’t you think it is worth the effort to protect this gift that God has given to us?  I think it is.

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