Friday, June 3, 2011

World Environment Day is Sunday; give Mother Earth a hand

The weekend approaches and with it an event I've never paid any attention to.

But maybe I should. World Environment Day (Sunday, June 5) sounds pretty interesting. What better time to address the needs of Mother Earth?

Sure is a heck of a lot better than humming the words to Rebecca Black's viral video: "Friday, Friday, Friday; Everybody's lookin' forward to the weekend ..." But I digress.

The U.S. Environmental  Protection Agency sent out an alert that it's celebrating World Environment Day with the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture and the White House Council on Environmental Quality. All of them are partners in something else I've never heard of called America’s Great Outdoors initiative.

The initiative's theme this year is "Forests: Nature at Your Service." Not bad. The intent is to get people to spend the weekend enjoying national parks and forests, wildlife refuges and cultural and historic sites -- as well as neighborhoods and city parks, community gardens and school yards.

“Forests are one of our world’s greatest treasures, bringing us natural beauty, clean air and a place our cherished wildlife can call home,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson says in a statement.

Of course, this comes straight on the heels of the news that carbon dioxide emissions reached a record 30.6 gigatons (giga is billion) in 2010, according to a report by the International Energy Agency.

Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, says the situation "represent(s) a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.”

A friend of mine, Wade Erickson, spent several days last month driving up the Alaska-Canada Highway and passing through some of the most beautiful and undisturbed country in North America. He made video posts along the way, posting them on And while I remember the grueling hours behind the wheel, the scenery brought back memories.

The boreal forest is gnarled and nasty, something out of a cautionary fairy tale.  Yet to me, it's paradise. Mushy tundra. Were-mosquitoes. Moose. Rabbits. Bent alder. Streams you can safely drink from. Kluane Lake is surreal. Color reveals itself in a canvas of tiny flowers. Birds flit everywhere.

There's a hot springs outside Whitehorse that's worth the dip even in the dead of winter.

Wade and his brother Paul love the outdoors and like me tend to feel more at home outside than on the couch. I grew up in rural Alaska -- Fairbanks, Kodiak Island and Valdez. But I must admit preferring the big city of Anchorage as I got older.

Much of this is under atmospheric assault. In Alaska, we like warm winters. The statement in Fairbanks, "It was below 20 below only a couple weeks this winter," meant you were living in the tropics.

But in reality, this ain't a good thing. "We now seem to be nearing tipping points past which truly cataclysmic damage would be inevitable," writes climate activist and author Bill McKibben. "The only good news is that we are now also beginning to see some political drive for real change."

McKibben's pushing the envelope with the a group he founded,, and through activism. I've begun to view him as a seer, taking in what he says and trying to adapt to a new way of looking at energy, life and particulate-laden air.

So, Sunday. Give going outside a shot. Hang out in a park. Go see the massive General Sherman Tree in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. For me it's an hour away. So there.

World Environment Day was launched in 1972 back when I was 11. Must have missed that press release. Now it's celebrated, or at least observed in some way, in 80 nations.

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