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  • Today around the world, groups and individuals celebrate Earth Day. The first Earth Day happend on April 22, 1970 in the United States. The true roots of the movement started with Rachel Carson’s disturbing predictions found in her 1962 book, “Silent Spring, but the real sea change wouldn’t happen until the late 1960′s when change for any number of movements was in the air.

    The actual day came about when a U.S. Senator, Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin, witnessed first hand a major oil spill off of the Santa Barbara coast in California. Already veterans on how to get a protest movement started from the war in Vietnam, students and less vocal older generations found common ground in the growing environmental problems in the United States and seized upon their opportunity to create real and lasting change.

    In 1970 most Americans drove huge V-8 powered hunks of Detroit steel and chrome on full leaded gasoline with virtually no emission controls. People were beginning only then to wake up to the terrific loss of natural habitat, plant, and animal species across the planet. Nelson and a like-minded but unlikely allie: A conservative Congressmen named Pete McCloskey agreed to serve as co-chair in the first Earth Day event.

    On April 22, over 20 million people showed up in parks and public squares across the country and realized their future strength would rely on the common ground each smaller group shared before that day. Congress listened and in the coming years formed the EPA-the Environmental Protection Agency and passed the Clean Air & Water and the Endangered Species Acts in short order. Within another 20 years, the movement went global and included 141 countries by 1990.

    In 2013, the movement remains strong in much of the world and climate change, smart growth, and alternative energy has taken center stage. Our school, today had an hour long program after a half-day ‘teach in’ and hike on Friday. In Asia, however, the movement remains decades behind in most ways. The unrelenting push for economic growth has put fresh, unforgiving demands on the air, water, and land here. You see it in the rush to build and clear every acre for growth and a population that exceeds one billion people. Litter is part of the natural landscape including the oceans and remote forest areas. High rise buildings dominate the skies and parks, marshlands, and buffers virtually non-existant.

    The air pollution indexes, created to include the extreme upper limits of foreseeable air quality, had to be rewritten this year and raised in China. Even then, the new 500-beyond index they call it- ceiling was broken countless times recently in cities all across China, embarrassing the leadership in Beijing and leading to days with near zero visibility and deadly air quality. Nearly half a million people in China alone, die annually from air pollution. Other nations in the path of China’s pollution, namely South Korea, Japan, Canada, and the western US, can actually predict and measure pollution riding the prevailing winds to their part of the world. The air pollution literally shows up from space. Like the oceans, the wind and all we fill it with does not respect man-made boundaries. Your trash becomes mine.

    In Qingdao, Alex and I have experienced many of those days when we know not to linger outside too long and know his PE classes will be indoors this week. We live just two blocks to the Yellow Sea, something I had hoped would help the air quality of where we lived, but there really is no place to hide. In Charleston, we lived near the Atlantic Ocean and always spent time in the warm waters and played barefoot in the sand. Beaches in Charleston are pristine in contrast. We know not to go barefoot nor even wade into the water-too much trash and sewage is pumped into the water to risk it. It is a foreign idea not to swim in the water.

    One way we have discovered to make some good out of the bad is by working on our sea glass collection. Sea glass back home is somewhat rare and special at the beach, thankfully. Here, we could fill buckets in an hour or two and that’s just the broken glass. Even more plastic bags, caps, bottles, and you-name it, washes ashore. Instead we look for shells and try and find the more rare blues, reds, and pale glass when we go to the beach and add it to our collection. Alex enjoys the hunt, we get to be by the water, and we get to take a bit of trash off the beach without feeling so hopeless about the sheer volume left behind. Take care of your Mother.

    Read more of Kevin's stories at
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