Twenty-five years ago, we celebrated the first Earth Day. Twenty-five years ago, the environment was not a household word, but there were plenty of environmental problems facing our nation and the world.
Twenty-five years ago, the newspapers reported that the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught on fire. Lake Erie was dying. Cities were dumping raw sewage in the Mississippi River and other great rivers and streams of America. Los Angeles choked in smog.
But, we reacted. We developed, in the 1970s, a series of laws: The Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act, and The Safe Drinking Water Act.
Then, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a new wave of pollution spread across America. Love Canal, Times Beach, and many other areas were discovered to be highly toxic. Again, we enacted lawsThe Toxic Substance Control Act and The Superfund.
In the late 1980s, and now into the decade of the 1990s, we are facing the problem of what to do with nuclear waste. We face the problems of massive oil spills. We continue to pollute our groundwater and lakes with pesticides and other toxins.
In the early 1990s, newspaper headlines described a number of environmental disasters. Hospital syringes washed up on the beaches. Tens of thousands of crabs, fish and shrimp died mysterious deaths off the coast of New Jersey. Smog continues to choke urban areas across America. Ozone alerts are becoming more prevalent in our cities.
Unfortunately, many people today still have not made the connection between the health of the planet and the health of the person. The time for all of us to come to the aid of our environment is now. You can make a difference. We must lead by example. We must lead through education and technology. You can speak up as leaders in your respective communities.
For example, consider tropical rain forests. Why should we care about the fate of forests that are thousands of miles away? Not only do forests provide food and shelter to at least half of the world's species of wildlife, these tropical forests are also the world's largest pharmaceutical factory. Hundreds of thousands of people owe their lives today to these precious plants, shrubs and trees. What would we do without them?
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The Rosy Periwinkle is an endangered tropical plant. But, who cares? I hope we all care because this plant is the source of the most effective anti-leukemia drug used today.
A quarter of the prescription drugs in the United States have originated from tropical plants or animals. Wild strains from forest plants are infused into our corn and major agricultural crops to improve their resistance to pests and disease. Yet we continue to destroy our tropical forests where these magnificent and unique plants produce medical miracles.
Who needs nature? Every one of us needs nature ... for food, health and scientific innovation; for the prevention of floods, droughts, epidemics and other natural disasters. And, of course, we need these places for our wildlife, our plants. We need them for recreation and for renewal and inspiration. And, yes, we need these places for survival.
Educators and nature interpreters working in our park districts and forest preserves are making a difference! We can have a tremendous influence on people. For instance, we know that most students have formed their environmental attitudes by the time they reach the eighth grade. We can have a tremendous influence on these young people. Shouldn't we all try to enlist youth in the Kids for Conservation program? In addition, you can promote the Illinois Conservation Park & Recreation Foundation in their efforts to raise funds for Kids for Conservation.
I hope by the year 2000 we will look back to the 1990s as a turn-around decade. In the 1990s perhaps as never before, human fate rests in human hands. Few periods in history have presented such clear choices between promise and peril. Some experts believe that civilization in the 21 st Century and beyond may well be shaped by the global decisions we make in the 1990s. We have the power to control our fate. What contributions will you make?
What legacy will you pass on to future generations? What can you do? There is much that you can do. The Illinois Association of Park Districts has a free brochure which describes what you can do as an individual by conserving water, planting trees, and recycling products. Contact our office at 217/523-4554.
You need to address the quality of the water that we drink, the clean air that we breathe, the ultraviolet light, the greenhouse effect, and the pesticides. Write to your legislators. Incorporate environmental issues in your personal and professional agendas. Let's try to have all of our park districts and forest preserves promote environmental education. The impact of thousands of voices speaking in unison can have a tremendous effect on environmental policies in our community, state, and the nation.
Get involved. Stay involved. Work for a better environment. Together we can, and, we must take stronger, bolder action to preserve the fragile, biological resources that are so essential to the future of America, to the future of the World.
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