Earth Day is officially April 22, but there’s no reason to limit Earth Day observances to that date.
From the start, Earth Day was intended in part as an educational occasion. In 1970, the focus was on teach-ins on college and university campuses. The library’s celebration seemed aimed mostly at children, although the various exhibits had plenty of useful content for adults as well.
I suppose public libraries all over the country observe Earth Day in various ways.
The Kathleen Clay Edwards branch is probably the only branch library in the country with an “environmental resources librarian.” It is located in otherwise completely undeveloped Price Park, which is regulated under a conservation easement. The Piedmont Land Conservancy serves as land steward. The City of Greensboro Parks and Recreation department maintains the park.
According to Melanie Buckingham, the environmental resources librarian, the Kathleen Clay Edwards branch occupies part of the park specifically to maintain an environmental focus. She coordinated with city, county, and non-profit organizations to assemble 50 exhibits over a four-hour period.
Other public libraries undoubtedly observe Earth Day. Other public libraries host day-long or afternoon-long events. After all, one mission of public libraries everywhere is to reach out to the public with a variety of educational programs. The afternoon-long Earth Day observance is probably unique to Greensboro.
A prize-winning school science project
These 6th, 7th, and 8th graders designed an outer space research project using jelly fish.
They submitted it in a contest and won. Their project will be launched to the International Space Shuttle later this year.
I spoke with their teacher/coach Lenny French to learn more. The contest is sponsored by the Student Space Flight Experiments Program (SSFE). School districts all over the United States and Canada submit applications. They include such information as how many schools and how many children will be directly involved in designing and preparing experiments.
The SSFE then selects among those districts to hold competitions. This year, 12 districts in the United States and 2 in Canada will send science experiments to the Space Shuttle. Schools in each district submit proposals to a local competition.
Ms French was not sure how many schools from Guilford County Schools participated, but in all there were 47 proposals. Each district then sends its top 3 proposals to the SSFE National Review Board, which chooses which experiment to launch.
I also noticed other booths that children staffed and explained, including the Greensboro Astronomy Club and Girl Scouts. Other children had decorated recycling containers of the same kind the City of Greensboro provides. Passers by were invited to vote for a winner.
Rangers from Haw River State Park taught about wildlife and provided an opportunity to practice bass casting. The fish were all plastic and spread out on the ground, but the dozen or so children and their parents seemed to be having a good time.
Also related to wildlife, an “Eco-Bus” was parked on the grounds. Instead of the exhibit on alternative fuels I expected, it contained an exhibit about reptiles, which included a live snake and iguana. I didn’t ask many questions there, because at the time it was quite chaotic, with people trying to get in and out and the exhibitors trying to clean up a mess the snake made.
Buckingham told me that the bus used to be a bookmobile. It is now used by Greensboro Parks and Recreation to take nature exhibits to schools.
Members of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League had a model of the part of the Dan River where a coal ash spill took place last February. Although plenty of children asked questions and got answers, this exhibit was probably the least child-centered I saw.
Children and adults alike could learn about gardening, sustainable eating, solar energy, inspecting a house for air leaks, “green” house cleaning, conserving gasoline, and other issues where personal choices can make a huge difference to the environment.
As I frequently write in my blog Sustainable Green Homes, millions of people consistently making small, incremental improvements toward becoming more sustainable will make more difference to the environment than a few people trying to make drastic lifestyle changes.
A municipal recycling truck was on hand for the annual Plastic Bottle Blitz. Individuals and groups were challenged to collect all shapes and sizes of empty plastic bottles and jugs over the span of about a month and a half.
Officials weighed the bags of plastic. The three individuals or groups who brought the most plastic by weight received cash prizes.
A van from Handy Capable collected obsolete and broken computer equipment and other electronics. I got rid of quite a bit of stuff that has collected around the house over the years. I welcomed the opportunity to get it out of the garage and keep it out of the landfill.
But even better, Handy Capable achieves two additional worthwhile goals. It employs people with developmental and physical disabilities to refurbish still-usable computers. It then distributes the computers to needy families and individuals.
Through Greensboro Beautiful, the festival also provided opportunity to participate in the Great American Cleanup. More than 800 volunteers removed almost litter from the city’s streets and waterways. They were able to recycle almost a third of it.
Achievements and tasks ahead–for the whole country
The various exhibits and activities at the Kathleen Clay Edwards branch illustrate what has been achieved in 45 years of Earth Day observances and how much work remains to be done.
In 1970, environmental issues were new to the public. Earth Day’s educational outreach that year was largely devoted to teach-ins on college and university campuses. The teach-ins consisted mostly of speeches. About the only role anyone suggested for individual citizens was participation in protests and other political activities.
Now, nearly everyone can easily participate in recycling. Most of us don’t. In fact, littering, a major issue in 1970, continues unabated. That’s why the Plastic Bottle Blitz and the Great American Cleanup remain necessary.
Many environmentally friendly products have come along in the past 45 years. A large majority of the American public values being environmentally responsible. Unfortunately, there is a noticeable gap between our stated values and buying behavior.
Also, we know that we should exercise more and drive less—not only for the environment, but for our health. Remote parking with hayride shuttle available at a nearby school, but at the time I arrived that lot was nearly empty. Most drivers appear to have tried to park as close to the library as possible.
Meanwhile, the EcoBus idled in the parking lot, running on diesel fuel, for more than four hours.
Photos by David Guion