It’s Earth Day, so say Thanks!

Kathleen Krog
Miami Herald, 4/22/99

In the city I call home, Fort Lauderdale, residents can recycle a veritable cornucopia of used consumer goods. Our blue recycling bins, picked up curbside weekly, can hold glass and plastic containers, cans, wax-coated cartons, cardboard (cut up and tied, please) and bundled newspapers.

We now have two large trash carts, one for recyclable Jard waste – also picked up weekly, and another for all that isn’t reusable. We can drop plastic bags at grocery stores, most of which also take Styrofoam trays that held vegetables and meat.

Every so often, Broward County holds a free hazardous-waste drop-off day at its two collection centers for such vile household leftovers as cruddy paint cans, solvents and the like. When the venerable kitchen range kicks, if the appliance-store guys don’t haul it away when they bring the new,one, you can set that curbside for recycling, too.

These same opportunities are available – to one degree or another – throughout South Florida. We almost take recycling for granted now. Thank the followers of the philosophies promoted at annual Earth Days for ‘ this government service, which allows us to feel virtuous once a week. If it hadn’t been for environmentalists’ consistent nagging, state and local governments – and the private sector – would have taken twice as long to get into recycling. As it is, Florida has been at it for just a decade.

And many local initiatives, such as Miami-Dade County’s annual awards to businesses for their recycling efforts, already have fallen by the wayside. Most are victims of budget cuts or waning official interest. It isn’t just the media that suffer from short attention spans. Governments, and many politicians who set their policies, have the same problem.

But not so the Earth Day crowd. It never forgets, and it rarely gives up. From saving tropical rain forests in exotic lands to cleaning up the humblest river in the middle of nowhere, Earth Day people work every day to save our future.

It’s not a glamorous battle for the truly effective fighters. They have to attend endless government meetings that drone on and on, with resolution seldom within sight. Example: Deborah Harrison, now employed by the World Wildlife Fund’s Keys office, began attending South Florida Water Management District meetings on restoring the Everglades in 1985 on behalf of the Keys Wilderness Society office. She still attends. That’s endurance – and commitment.

Many – be they citizen volunteers or paid advocates – put up with open hostility from officials whom they seek to persuade. They are reviled by opposing interests, often patronized by bureaucrats, and frequently dismissed as “tree-hugging” nuts by a disengaged public. Trying I to rescue the world from its present stewards can be thankless work.

Sure, some Earth Day types can be a real pain. They spout off half-cocked” spreading disinformation or emotion-laden opinion rather than factual evidence. They make the job twice as tough for real environmentalists such as Karsten and Carol Rist, most often associated with their long-time involvement in the Audubon Society. Unlike Harrison, who gets paid for her ecological toils, the Rists volunteer.

The couple is a contrast in styles. As chair of Miami-Dade’s Endangered Environmental Lands Committee, she brings a warm, approachabledemeanor that coats a Florida native’s firm, unwavering commitment to the land. He cerebral, technology-oriented. His training as a mining engineer has stood him in good s when analyzing policy proposals.

The public-policy makers who work on behalf of the environment do it for a variety of reasons – sometimes~ it can be chalked up to altruism, sometimes to good politics. One who has done it for both is Harvey Ruvin, long-time Miami-Dade County commissioner and now the county’s Clerk of Courts. His ecological handiwork is all over South Florida. We pump gas safer thanks to Ruvin’s initiative to filter nozzles to capture polluting gas fumes, for example. Today he’s in New York at a United Nations sustainable-development session.

On this Earth Day, it’s not too much to ask to take a moment to pay homage to the folks who labor on this glorious old orb’s behalf. There are many more volunteers, paid advocates and public officials (both elected and appointed) who do as much as the three examples I cited in this space. But believe me, even i those who get paid do it more for the love and the principle than for the money.

The smart ones pick their issues carefully, educate themselves and then step forward to pick up where the Rachel Carsons, the John Muirs and the Marjorys – Carr and Stoneman Douglas – left off. Most never get much recognition, only the personal satisfaction of doing what is right for this Earth’s mostly oblivious occupants. This April day is safer, cleaner and prettier thanks to them. Remember that next time you toss those soda bottles in the recycling bin.


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