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OPINION: Earth Day a great opportunity to remember what's really important

April 20th, 2017 | Carey Restino Print this article   Email this article  

Earth Day is sort of like Mother's Day or Valentine's Day — it's one of those times when we lavish attention and love on something or someone we know we should be honoring every day, really. Instead, we try to condense a year's worth of attention into a single day. Luckily, Earth Day is a great opportunity to be reminded of what is really important, and set intentions for the coming year on how we can better care for this planet.

Alaskans, by and large, are deeply connected to the earth. Many of us draw our living from its resources, from fishermen to oil field workers. A large percentage of us depend on subsistence harvests to fill our freezers for the winter with the very best food there is. And the extremes of the climate here demand our attention in ways that those from more moderate climates can't imagine.

That's why so many Alaskans are concerned — because they pay attention and they know things are changing and changing fast. It's been a glorious spring in the corner of Alaska I call home — weeks and weeks of crystal blue skies and enough snow to play in finally.

My 13-year-old son got on downhill skis for the first time this year. The past few years, there wasn't enough snow. So now we have snow, but we also have sun and we don't usually have that until May. My friend just returned from two weeks in the Pacific Northwest, where spring is late. It was cold and rainy. They have our weather. We have theirs. Surely that's a gross over-simplification, but here's what we do know — you can't predict the weather now based on patterns we've all seen for decades. We just don't know.

So here we are, trying to figure it all out. There are movements afoot in the state to track the changes we are seeing — variations in sea ice, fish that didn't show up, caribou herds that changed their migration patterns, new species of sea stars, trees, birds. There are other efforts focused on what those changes mean for us, and what we, as Alaskans can do about it from individuals to communities to a state as a whole united against impacts that can harm us all.

If there's any silver lining to be found regarding climate change it is this — it forces us to remember that we are all connected. Think about those forest fires in Russia years back that darkened our skies with air that smelled strongly of spruce even after drifting thousands of miles.

Or the garbage drifting onto our shores after the Japanese tsunami. Those we could see clearly, but there are thousands of other pieces and particles drifting our way, changing our lives, that we can't see, but can't ignore. They are making our waters warm, our ice melt, and our weather patterns change. And Alaskans, in many respects, get the honor of seeing it first.

This Earth Day, take some time to think about this world we live in, and how you as an individual can do a better job taking care of it. If you think that doesn't matter, think again. Think about your childhood and how oddball organic was and how the only thing recycled was junker cars at the dump. Think about how much we now know, and how far we've come. We are changing in a good way.

That's why it's not enough to vow to recycle more and consume less this Earth Day. The really important thing we must do is share our wisdom with the next generation of caretakers for this earth. They are inheriting, arguably, the most challenging situation ever handed over to a generation — a warming, changing world that will require all their strength and innovation.

So we had better give them the tools they will need to cope with it. First, we must teach them to love the land, to feel the dirt, and gaze at the sky and smell the forest. Then, we must teach them that it is their job to take care of this land, to make wise decisions and watch carefully the decisions of others.

We must pick up trash when we walk around town. We must plant flowers and vegetables and honor the fish we take out of the ocean by preparing them with joy and with care. If we teach them that, they can pick up where we let off, knowing that we are all connected by the fact that our feet are on this earth — on Earth Day and every day.


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