Sunday, Earth Day, is a great time to resolve to be a more responsible person. We don't see it so much as "saving the planet," although if that superhero metaphor motivates you, stick with it. We see it more as common-sense duty. If you take care of the environment you live in - natural or manmade - it'll be good to you; if you're lazy and careless, it won't be. The natural world sustains us, but we, as a species, don't honor it as well as we should.
This sense of responsibility jives with almost every common ideology, religion or political party. We all know our duty, but we make all kinds of excuses for getting out of it - or ignore it when it's inconvenient.
We wish our area's general population was responsible enough already that we could get beyond the basics, but sadly, we can't. We still see too much litter on the ground, too many plastic bags stuck in trees, too many locals getting in the car to drive two blocks.
So let's focus on the low-hanging fruit. If we all did the easy, obvious stuff, it would make a huge difference, and if we can't do that, we can't do much of anything. As a wise friend once said at dessert time, "If we can't say no to a third helping of ice cream, how are we going to stop wars?"
And we have to do something - now. Here are some reasons why:
-All but a few scientists agree that our planet is at a tipping point toward warming temperatures and, as a result, more storms and rising oceans. Nations are jockeying to capitalize on the resources and shipping lanes opened by melting arctic ice, yet they aren't taking steps to slow that melting.
-Acid rain and mercury have been killing our Adirondack fish and trees for decades already. Twenty-two years after the Clean Air Act, it's only a little better than it was.
-Our century-old reliance on petroleum products may have to change. Even if the Peak Oil theorists aren't right about traditional oil sources being on the downslide, it's clear that high oil prices are here to stay, prompting companies to pursue more expensive, dangerous and polluting extraction methods such as tar sands, shale oil and deepwater drilling.
-Although we don't think so much about water conservation up here in the Northeast, out west they've drained their rivers far beyond the bounds of reason.
It's dead easy to do a whole bunch of things to make up for some of the damage we humans do to our natural environment. Here are some simple ones you can do any day, not just Earth Day, to reduce pollution of our ground, air and water:
1. First, for crying out loud, don't litter. It's pathetic that we still have to say this in 2012, but there is garbage all over our neighborhoods and roadsides. Come on - you know better.
2. Pick up garbage, bottles and cans on the sides of our roads and sidewalks.
3. Take part in a local cleanup day. Saranac Lake's annual Village Cleanup Day is today, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Lake Placid's is next Saturday; sign up between 9 and 10 a.m. at the Olympic Center box office. There will likely be others, such as the annual Saranac River cleanup; watch the Enterprise calendar for listings.
4. Avoid disposable stuff as much as possible. For instance, don't get coffee or soda in a disposable cup; bring your own.
5. Bring your own reusable bags when you go shopping.
6. Say no to excess packaging when you can.
7. Don't buy unnecessary things, especially if they are useless and of low quality. For example, if your child is having a birthday party, skip the cheap plastic favors for the guests.
8. Don't just throw things in the trash can. Put recyclable stuff in sorted containers; then recycle it.
9. Consider buying used goods instead of new. There are a lot of good thrift stores around our area, and our classified ads and website are full of garage sale listings. Check them out; you may find something you like at a good price.
10. Buy locally produced food and goods; less shipping means less air pollution.
11. Don't drive any distance less than five blocks if you're a healthy adult with a normal range of movement and aren't hauling a large amount of stuff. Most adults could extend that to a mile, but even in bad weather, there's not much excuse other than laziness for driving less than five blocks. You can walk or bike. It'll save you money on gas, save the air from unnecessary fumes, save our planet's limited supply of oil and be better for your body.
12. Listen to your kids. This stuff usually makes perfect sense to young people, which only proves that it is the truest kind of "common sense." Sure, kids are sometimes off base, but we adults give ourselves so many excuses for environmental irresponsibility that our idealist kids often trip up our lazy logic.