Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day

Today is Earth Day! As people all over the country (and world, so I hear) attend rallies and listen to music, how can we, the garden geeks, the biology geeks, the bioneers, help. First, remember what Earth Day is all about. It isn’t a day to worry about this great big ball of rock and iron orbiting the sun. We needn’t worry about the core or the mantle (unless, perhaps you live in Iceland). It IS a day to worry about Earth’s surface infection we call life and the interwoven relationships that they create, collectively called the ecosystem. The ecosystem, combined with physical factors such as weather, tides, soil chemistry, seawater chemistry, and much, much more make up the environment. Earth Day is a day to remember how important the environment is to all of us. It is a day to reflect on what has gotten us where we are and, more importantly, where we need to go from here and how can we get there. So what can we do to make a difference? I have taken the liberty of making a list.

1) Recognize the importance of science. The first thing to remember is what science is. It is not a belief system, a dogma. It is, quite simply, a method, a tool. As a great man said, “You don't use science to show that you're right, you use science to become right.” The entire purpose of science is to study and discover the truth, the actual, unbiased, complete truth. There are those out there who say that it is science that got us into this mess in the first place. Well, yes and no. True, without science we wouldn’t have nearly the problems with pollution and global warming and all the other stuff. But we would also still be riding horses and watching our children die of horrible diseases for lack of medicine and starving to death because we can’t grow enough food to feed everyone. Science has improved every quality of life. Yes, we have problems, but the problems weren’t caused by science, they were caused by INCOMPLETE science. We didn’t do enough science early along to realize what effect our technologies have on the world around us. Science helped not only discover that we have new problems, but also helped identify the sources of the problems. And it is science that will get us out of this mess. So, please, do what you can for science. Teach it. Encourage it. Fund it. We need science.

2) Did I mention that we should recognize the importance of science?

3) Seek to understand the various roles of organisms in our environment. Generally speaking (REALLY generally), animals consume oxygen and plant or animal material and secrete carbon dioxide and waste material that is high in nutrients. Plants consume carbon dioxide and nutrients from the soil to produce oxygen and their own body mass, which either sequesters carbon or is consumed by animals. Fungi and bacteria consume oxygen and secrete carbon dioxide (mostly) and feed by cleaning up waste material, including dead organisms, and turning it into soil. With this in mind, think about what you want to accomplish. If you want to remove carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the air, plants are your best bet. The faster a plant grows, the faster it will pull carbon from the air. The longer the plant lives, the longer it will hold on to that carbon. Trees are always a good bet for this. If you want to clean up pollutants in the soil or the water, fungus and bacteria do a good job for this. Give them the conditions they need to grow, especially oxygen and do your best to pick the right organism for the job.

4) Think globally, act locally. Do something. Here are a few ideas:

Plant a Garden

A garden is actually a huge help. By growing plants, you are removing carbon dioxide from the air. By producing food a few feet from where you eat it, you are reducing the fuel it takes to get it to you plate, thus reducing carbon used. Also consider that burning that carbon costs money and you, the end user, get to pay for it. If you don’t have lots of time to take care of a garden, go for perennials. Fruit trees especially do a good job of sequestering carbon while continuing to produce low-maintenance food every year. Blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, asparagus and rhubarb, among many, many others, are also lower maintenance than annuals and will continue to grow for years.


If everyone composted their organic waste, it would remove a really significant portion of the trash stream. In addition, compost builds the soil, increases moisture retention of the soil, and increases the health of plants, allowing them to do their job better.

Harvest Rainwater

Taking advantage of all the free water falling from the sky is really beneficial to your pocketbook as well as our aquifers.

There is plenty more you can do, but these are really easy ones. They are also beneficial to you as well as the planet.

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