News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Earth Day founder's legacy remains in place

Deer eat the leaves from saplings, not understanding that they satisfy their hunger at the expense of their habitat. Muskrats kill vegetation, ultimately destroying their swamp habitat. Elephants strip and knock over the trees that, if left to grow, would sustain them.

Most animals are superb at the immediate reaction to danger, but often lack the foresight to avoid danger. Their perspective is narrow, their scope defined by the minute, not the hour. Humans share that shortsightedness, the difference being that we can soil our nest on a grand scale.

Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, died Sunday. His genius prodded us to realize that we are one with animals — that our fate is tied to theirs — while at the same time teaching us that our obligations are unique. He reminded us that, at our best, we can expand our scope beyond the immediate. He helped pry off the blinders that had let us revel in a century of industrial brilliance while blind to the toll we took on the environment that sustained us.

"He inspired us to remember that the stewardship of our natural resources is the stewardship of the American Dream," said President Clinton when presenting Sen. Nelson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995.

In an essay he wrote before his death, Sen. Nelson said the idea for an annual Earth Day evolved from his realization that politicians did not understand the fervor with which the people valued the environment. Sen. Nelson's goal remains unreached — many of our political leaders have blinders firmly in place — but he helped elevate environmental concerns to the point that politicians must pay attention.

Like the deer that damages its own habitat, we continue to trade immediate gratification for long-term sustenance. Thanks in part to the late Sen. Nelson, however, our vision has expanded.

We see a dark future, but we also see a path that leads to a green one.

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