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Friday, April 20, 2012

The Friday Challenge - 4/20/2012

Good grief. Has it really been 42 years?

This coming Sunday, April 22, is Lenin's Birthday the 42nd anniversary of the first Earth Day.

I remember the first Earth Day, in 1970, mostly because it was a nice day and Earth Day was a good excuse to cut school and go run around outside. One of my more achievement-oriented friends tried to organize a group to go pick up trash along the river, but that business was too filthy and too much like work for most of my fellow Earth Day celebrants. They mainly wanted to be seen caring about the Earth, and demanding that someone (preferably someone else) do something. Even today, that particular bit of the memory collage makes me think of Matthew 6.1: "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them..."

Still, before you dismiss Earth Day as being mere simple-minded tree-huggerism, know this: it was needed.

I remember what it was like when cities and factories dumped their effluent straight into the skies and waters. I remember when you couldn't see a mile in the daytime in Los Angeles, because the air was so thick with smog your eyes burned. I remember being in harbors that looked and smelled like backed-up truck-stop toilets that hadn't been flushed or cleaned in a week, because municipalities dumped their raw sanitary sewage straight into the local rivers. I remember not needing a compass to navigate in the daytime: you could be twenty miles offshore and still fix your location just by spotting the plumes of smoke from the coal-fired power plants.

I remember years when the beaches were closed all summer long because of water pollution, and the center of Lake Erie was a biological dead zone, and rivers in Ohio were so polluted they sometimes caught fire. I remember being out in deep water and coming across rafts of dead fish that some caprice of the wind and waves had pushed together. Try to imagine that: a ribbon of dead fish so thick it almost looked as if you could walk on it, fifty yards wide and three miles long. Try to imagine the smell...

No, bad idea, don't do that; at least not before breakfast.

In my more cynical moments, of which I have plenty, I've been known to say that western civilization peaked on July 20, 1969, coasted at apogee for nine months, and then began its long, unstoppable, steadily accelerating plunge back into ignorance and barbarism on April 22, 1970.

But that is a topic for another time. Today's topic—and the subject of this week's Friday Challenge, of course—is this:

"What Earth Day Means To Me"

That's what I want from you this week. Maybe you want to write straight-faced essay on the topic, taking it completely seriously. Or maybe you want to write a short story, imagining that you're—oh, a schoolchild in Kansas in 2070, or one who's grown up on a space habitat and never seen the sky—assigned to write this essay. Or perhaps you're a young Martian, who's grown up in a culture still smarting from that catastrophic defeat in 1898, and "Earth Day" has an entirely different meaning for your people.

Anyway, that's this week's assignment: "What Earth Day Means To Me." Think it over, write something, post it on your blog or website or send it here, and let's all meet back here again next week to compare and discuss the results.

Have fun!

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