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Mother Earth deserves help with environmental issues

Earth Day on Wednesday and National Arbor Day on Friday slipped by with too little fanfare. I guess we were all busy with other things.

Those are important days. Whether you classify yourself a tree hugger or a tree shrugger, you have to be aware of the importance of nature and be concerned about what is happening to it.

Some of the problems are gargantuan. Recently, millions of acres of Amazon rain forest were destroyed by fires that lasted two months, until rain finally extinguished the flames. Massive glaciers are melting at an increasing rate, which some scientists attribute to global warming.

You don't have to look outside Pinellas County, however, to find disturbing examples of what we are doing to nature. Heavy rains and inadequate sewer systems sent millions of gallons of raw sewage spilling into Pinellas waterways, polluted beaches and caused who-knows-what harm to humans and other animals. The few remaining wooded spaces in North Pinellas are still being paved over for more roads or housing. It makes you wonder when the "No Vacancy" sign will go up in Pinellas County.

Can we do anything about any of these problems? Of course we can.

Some people, perhaps many, would not consider themselves "environmentalists," which is defined in Webster's New World College Dictionary as "a person working to solve environmental problems, such as air and water pollution, the exhaustion of natural resources, and uncontrolled population growth." The key word here is "working." Many people would probably sympathize with the goals but not have the time or inclination to work toward them.

I'll bet most people consider themselves "conservationists," however. That is defined simply as "a person who advocates the conservation of natural resources."

Even people who waste natural resources (we're all guilty) think we should be more frugal with petroleum products, water and forests. (Before people feel as if they have to point it out, I know this column is disseminated on dead trees. The Times does recycle its unused newspapers.)

There is plenty of help available if we want to be better conservationists, or even to take on the added responsibility of being environmentalists.

First, we don't have to solve the largest, most complex problems ourselves. As citizens and taxpayers, we have established and paid for government agencies to do that for us.

We should insist that those agencies do their jobs. If they are lazy or answer to special interests rather than residents, we should let them know that kind of behavior won't be tolerated.

Next, we can become involved in beneficial activities right at home.

For tree and plant lovers, there are local garden clubs and plant societies. One of those is the Florida Native Plant Society (544-7341), which holds monthly meetings. The Times publishes information about a number of other such groups in its monthly calendar.

Anyone who might like to know more about environmental issues can contact local chapters of the Audubon Society (789-4603) and the Sierra Club (584-8889), which also meet monthly.

I found some good ideas for Arbor Day on the National Arbor Day Foundation Web site (http://www.arborday.org). Here are some of the suggestions:

Have a contest that recognizes the oldest tree of each species in your community.

Organize a drive to gather paper or aluminum to be recycled; use the profits to buy trees.

Ask Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to act as guides for a tree hike through a park, pointing out interesting facts about the trees.

Engage community groups and individuals in a tree-planting contest similar to the first Arbor Day in Nebraska in 1872. Give prizes to the group that plants the most trees and recognize everyone who plants 125 or more.

Celebrate Arbor Day in a personal way by planting a tree. It is an act of optimism and kindness, a labor of love and a commitment to stewardship. Anyone can do it. Start a tree seed in a cup, or a seedling in a pot.

That final suggestion is the best motivation I've heard for being a conservationist or an environmentalist _ it is an act of optimism. That is the essence of Earth Day and Arbor Day, hope for the future.

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