Earth Day reminds us of our responsibility toward the environment

Elliot Newman
Island Forum

Mercer Islanders, this article is about you. As the 39th anniversary of the first Earth Day approaches, all things “green” seem to be ramping up, perhaps causing some to reflect on our own relationship to the environmental movement. Where do we fit as individuals within issues that are global and, at times, overwhelming? Does “sustainability” have any real meaning and can a community the size of Mercer Island’s have any real impact? More on that later. First, a little history.

Earth Day, which is April 22, was created by Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin in 1970. It was the birth of the modern environmental movement in the United States.

As we entered the 21st century, the focus of the regulatory community shifted from the sources of air and water quality and waste generators to the reduction of ambient levels of greenhouse gases and the generation of carbon dioxide in particular. Global warming and its contribution to climate change are direct consequences of the rising levels of these gases over the past recent decades.

The major generators of these gases are related to the various modes of transportation, such as our automobiles, trucks, buses, airplanes, ships and trains. In addition, our use of electricity and natural gas to heat and light our homes and keeping our nation’s industrial base functioning account for another major component of these gases. Our federal government is starting to develop programs and regulations to reduce these carbon products. These programs will be focused on the large generators such as power-generation facilities, chemical plants, automobiles and trucks.

Those approaches will take time to reduce the levels of CO2 in our atmosphere. In the meantime, all of us can alter our personal lifestyles to reduce our own “carbon footprint.” And, Mercer Islanders, here’s where you come in.

The list of ways we can alter our personal lifestyles to reduce carbon emissions is a mile long. Some ideas are practical; others require limited resources such as time and/or money, and still other ideas are creative, but not necessarily grounded in reality. Sorting through all of these “helpful” suggestions can be daunting, causing many to throw up their hands altogether and do nothing. We can do better.

A group of Mercer Island residents, city staff and elected officials from both the city and the School Board have created an ad hoc committee which we have named the “Green Ribbon Commission.” The Commission will do some homework for this community and come up with suggestions that make sense for Mercer Island. Using the best data available and taking into consideration the uniqueness of Mercer Island, this group will carefully research and develop recommendations for “green” actions that we can all take.

The first step is hearing from you. Please join us at a “Conversation on Climate Action” at 6 p.m. on Earth Day, April 22, at the Community Center at Mercer View. In doing so, you will be joining others throughout the country who are participating in similar activities as part of a National Conversation on Climate Action. Please come and share your thoughts and ideas. There will also be an opportunity to learn more about the “Green Ribbon Commission,” its initial mission, its near and far-term objectives and how you can get involved and become part of it.

So where do we fit in? The good news is that Mercer Island — both in terms of its government and residents — is not only a leader in the Puget Sound area when it comes to complying with state and federal regulations, but also a leader nationwide when it comes to positive environmental behaviors such as recycling. Fortunately, we are not the type of community to rest on its laurels. So pat yourself on the back, and then come to the Conversation on Climate Action on April 22 at the Community Center. See you there!

More information: www.mercergov.org/conversation

Elliot Newman has lived on Mercer Island for 28 years. He is a former mayor of Mercer Island and spent the better part of his career in environmental engineering. Elliot currently serves as the interim president of the Green Ribbon Commission.

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