On April 22, 1970 Walt Kelly’s little possum named Pogo kicked off Earth Day with the now famous quote “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I was just eight years old then. I don’t remember Earth Day, nor its founder, former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson.
My earliest memories of the environmental movement are of a television commercial featuring a Native American chief standing by the road with tears in his eyes after someone tosses a bag of garbage out the window of a passing automobile. The commercial was part of the early Keep America Beautiful campaign.
While you can now canoe and fish in the Cuyahoga River without a fire extinguisher at your side, I’m not sure things are much better. Yes, like the Cuyahoga, my local Milwaukee and Monomonee Rivers are now also clean enough to fish in, so in many ways the environmental movement has been successful. As many as 80% of American’s call themselves environmentalists. While most of us wouldn’t think of tossing a bag of garbage out the window, a passenger in a car did actually toss some garbage out the window as they passed me riding my bike on Sunday, but not far after that I pedaled past a bunch of people picking up trash on the side of the road.
While tossing trash is more of an aberration than a norm, perhaps the modern environmental problems are a little harder to see. It might also be that we have pushed old mother earth to far and it’s the end of the world as we know it, as noted environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth declared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine last weekend.
Sure, I find it frightening that some people still don’t believe in climate change and we continue to invest in “clean” coal rather than “more expensive” renewable energy sources. And I must be dumb, because I cannot understand it when people drive distances I could walk rather than ride a bike or take a bus, but I haven’t given up hope.
My daughter turns 18 tomorrow, so I must have hope. It might be just as irrational of me to believe her generation will do better than mine did as it is for people to deny global warming, but I would have a hard time going to sleep at night if I felt any differently. But I don’t ride my bike solely to save the planet for my daughter’s sake. I ride my bike short distances because I believe it is the responsible thing to do. Raised in a blue-collar working family, I was taught not to be afraid of a little effort, that we can’t afford to waste, to take responsibility for myself, and consider that my actions don’t hurt anyone else.
Like anyone else, I’m not perfect. I could live in a smaller home, use less electricity, take shorter showers, etc., but I do what I can and accept criticism for my faults. With the exception of Earth Day, I try not to be too preachy about riding a bike for transportation, despite my job as a “bicycle advocate.” I mostly try to encourage people to ride their bike because it is a whole lot of fun, as the photos below prove.
So I ask that today, in honor of Wisconsin’s favorite environmental son Gaylord Nelson, you excuse me for this brief call to action. Thanks, and with that I’ll climb down from this soap box and go ride my bike to work.
Bike To Work Week
Wisconsin Bike Challenge