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By observing Lent during the 40 days leading up to Easter, Christians recognize Jesus' exodus into the desert by praying and sacrificing.

We should look at our environment in this manner. Lent is not just about giving up something; it's a lot more. Its purpose is not to do without, but to remind you of Easter.

Giving up something that has a negative effect on our environment is a personal reminder every time you do it, and each time you give up something for the environment, you become a partner in improving it. It's not big items such as a giant coal-fired plant shutting down; it's thousands upon thousands of individuals who help with the smallest of improvements.

This is our family's simple involvement in making an improvement in our environment. About six months ago, Vertis and I started turning down plastic straws when we dine out. I know you're shaking your head at the reduction of maybe 50 or 60 straws a month that won't end up in a landfill or float around in the Pacific Ocean before ending up in a six-foot-deep mass of plastic as big as the state of Texas.

But we are doing two things when we turn down an offer of a plastic straw. We are making a statement: Plastic straws are bad for the environment. And even more importantly, this act reminds us why we're giving them up. It signifies being a part of a grassroots coalition to save the environment that will accomplish something; another speech from Al Gore won't do the job nearly as well as thousands of citizens around your town who give up something to help improve or prevent environment destruction.

In order to have an environmental attitude, you must be involved. The reason we picked plastic straws is to remind us every time we sit down to order anything, we have an environmental awareness that stays with us. Those little nudges that come from turning down plastic straws make tiny pricks in our consciences, which help us focus on other environmental problems and not be indifferent.

The idea that our environment will steadily be improved by grass-roots actions depends upon a commitment that will make a difference; We either take away something that is bad for the environment or add something good.

Let's look at taking away items that have a negative impact. The next obvious items after plastic straws in the dining area are one-use plastic eating utensils. Giving up those for the environment takes a little more effort than plastic straws, but the bulk associated with those items makes the effort worthwhile. Non-biodegradable plastic straws are only part of the problem we have with non-recyclables.

Now let's see if we can help reduce the number of plastic bags that end up scattered around our planet or in the belly of a whale, such as the one that recently beached and died with 50 pounds of plastic grocery sacks in her stomach. It would be better if we all shopped with reusable bags and never used another plastic sack, but that's hard to manage. However, what is manageable is to return those bags and drop them in a recycle box. But get ready to see them go, because New York is considering banning them, and several towns on the West Coast have already done so.

If we resolve to stop using anything that is a one-use item, we will be making a giant step forward. It would mean we would insist all drinks of any kind be in reusable containers. That is a big step, but one that will happen over the next few years. The idea that we will drink from a single-use cup in the year 2025 will be almost unheard of. So why don't we get started and make the reusable drinking cups and bottles standard fare?

As we get environmentally active, we will naturally interact with our elected officials, and as we make our voices heard, it will compel them to act on major items. Grass-roots pressure to convert coal-fired generating plants can close those plants down quicker than anything; the consumer will get lower utility bills and the earth will have cleaner air. It's a win-win situation unless you are trying to win over coal miner votes.

The combination of low-cost natural gas, wind, and solar power along with grass-roots support has closed well over 270 coal-fired plants since 2010, and more are set to close. Coal-fired plant retirements have saved more than 7,000 lives and $3.4 billion in health-care costs.

With just a little effort, any town or city in Arkansas can make a tremendous environmental improvement by planting trees. A study by the U.S. Forestry Service gives a monetary value to what a town spends to maintain and keep urban trees. For every $1 spent the city will get back $5.82. Over the life of the tree the values for heat removal, noise reduction, reduction of air pollution and aesthetic value add up to $57,151. That's the worth of one tree.

Maintaining our national forests and adding to our wilderness areas are positive ways to help the earth survive the onslaught of those who would try to make money at any cost to the environment. Opposing U. S. Rep. Bruce Westerman's Sustainable Forestry initiative is a pro-environmental way to react. If it becomes law, up to 10,000 acres could be clear-cut in our national forest without any public input.

I know we are already doing some positive environmental activities, but we rank 44th in Clean State rankings. So roll up your sleeves, get involved, and have a great Earth Day.

Email Richard Mason at

Editorial on 04/21/2019

Print Headline: Sacrifices for the environment


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