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Sherman Says: Observance of Earth Day needs a facelift, for the next generation

SPRINGVILLE ó Whatever happened to Earth Day? The ecology-driven observance still appears on calendars but hardly generates the response it did, 40 years ago.

The observance has been held annually on April 22, beginning in 1970. It is now coordinated globally by an organization called the Earth Day Network and celebrated in more than 192 countries.

Younger readers should understand the backdrop that surrounded this initial event. The United States was still bogged down in Vietnam and the generation gap was widening by the hour. Most adults, viewed as ďThe Establishment,Ē saw Earth Day as an opportunity for hippies to skip school and smoke pot. But thatís a topic for another time.

According to the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, Sen. Gaylord Nelson chose the date ďin order to maximize participation on college campuses, for what he conceived as an environmental teach-in.Ē Thatís just the level of language that alienated the older generation.

Nelson determined the week of April 19-25 was the best bet, as it did not fall during exams or spring breaks and did not conflict with religious holidays, such as Easter or Passover. More students were likely to be in class, and there would be less competition with other mid-week events.

Our societyís increased reliance on electrical devices is reflected in the designation of Earth Hour, a worldwide movement organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature. The event encourages individuals, communities, households and businesses to turn off their non-essential lights for one hour, from 8:30-9:30 p.m. on the last Saturday in March. I missed it this year.

While Earth Day lacks the impact it once had, the spirit of one person making a difference remains strong. The B Team, billed as ďa non-profit organization led by young professionals dedicated to promoting a lasting sense of civic pride in the Greater Buffalo area,Ē is sponsoring a cleanup project at Red Jacket Park at the foot of Smith Street on April 26. The B Team has adopted this South Buffalo site for the 2014 Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper Spring Shoreline Sweep. This event starts at 9 a.m. and finishes at noon.

This is a great project, made possible by volunteers on a mission. How wonderful it would be if there was enough energy to perform similar cleanups throughout the region, throughout the year.

Not every environmental good deed needs organization and structure. Some can be done individually.

Stop using the flimsy plastic bags utilized by grocery stores and other retail outlets. The large, durable sacks sold by supermarkets hold more than the transparent versions and donít tear. The best way to get consumers to make the change is to charge 5 cents for each plastic bag required when making a purchase. Thatís how itís done in the District of Columbia.

The Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act requires all District of Columbia businesses that sell food or alcohol charge 5 cents for each disposable paper or plastic carryout bag.

The business retains 1 cent (or 2 cents, if it offers a rebate when customers bring their own bag), and the remaining 3 or 4 cents goes to The Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund. As of September 2013, the measure has raised more than $7.4 million in bag fees.

Maybe Erie County could consider the same move, in the interest of establishing and maintaining a cleaner waterfront and the rivers and creeks that add to our regionís beauty.

Heightened awareness of our environment is not just a matter of turning off lights, picking up trash or deciding which bags to use when shopping. It includes recycling, energy conservation and proper motor vehicle maintenance.

A generation ago, Earth Day was seen as revolutionary. It still can be.

To volunteer for the Red Jacket Park project on April 26, send an email to

David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at


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