Editorial: Nothing political about Earth Day

Saturday marks the 47th annual Earth Day, and this year, it also marks the first March for Science in Washington, D.C., and several other cities, organized in part to celebrate the role science plays in our everyday lives and to advocate for evidence-based policy and regulations in the public interest.

The latter is a more direct response to President Donald Trump's skepticism of man-made climate change, a budget that contains major funding cuts for research programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Energy's Office of Science and other science agencies in the federal government, among other actions taken by the administration.

Removing politics from the equation, we ask this question: Would you prefer breathing polluted air or drinking dirty water?

We know of few, if any, people who would say yes to that question. And really, isn't that what Earth Day and taking care of our planet is about?

Before the first Earth Day in 1970, there were a number of environmental disasters that spurred Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson to create the inaugural day of awareness with a series of teach-ins.

During a three-day period in November 1966, more than 160 people died of respiratory-related illnesses in New York due to poor air quality. In January 1969, an offshore oil rig near Santa Barbara, California, spilled approximately 10,000 gallons of crude oil. At that point, it was the largest oil spill in U.S. history, and still ranks third behind the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010. And in June 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire when a portion of it filled with debris, oil and industrial sludge was ignited by sparks from a passing train.

Environmental regulations put in place since the first Earth Day have given us cleaner air and water, something we seem to take for granted these days.

Perhaps these things were just easier to understand and visualize — people dying from toxins in the air, sea creatures covered in oil and a river through a major U.S. city bursting into flames — than something as abstract as global warming or climate change, which is the primary concern of environmentalists today.

Regardless of where you stand politically or your views on man-made climate change, we can all benefit from being good stewards of our environment this Earth Day and every day.

That doesn't mean you have to eat only organic food, drive an electric car and never using paper napkins. Rather make a simple change, like buying a reusable water bottle for each member of your family instead of buying a case of plastic bottles that get thrown out each week, and take years to decompose in a landfill. Repair a dripping water faucet or toilet, which can waste hundreds of gallons of water, and make a habit of turning off the lights when you leave a room — as an added bonus, you'll save money on your utility bill.

Keeping our air and drinking water clean and wasting less water, energy and food shouldn't be controversial politicized issues. That's what the true spirit of Earth Day and taking care of our environment should be.

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