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Earth Day

On April 20 the Missoula Urban Demonstration (MUD) Project will once again spearhead Missoula’s Earth Day celebration. We are gearing up to host an inspiring day of fun activities filled with furry and feathery friends.

This 13th annual event will highlight the Earth Day 2019 theme: “Protect our Species.” Accordingly, organizations like Animal Wonders and Raptors of the Rockies will feature critters, educate about wildlife and inspire us to honor Earth Day in our daily lives. Many area nonprofits will converge to share how they contribute to species conservation.

Earth Day’s relevance persists today. If anything, current political trends bring new urgency to environmental discussions. The following statistics from www.earthday.org only underscore the enormity of the problems we face:

• Both marine and terrestrial animal populations have fallen by 40 percent since 1970.

• 40 percent of the world’s bird species are in decline.

• Insect populations have plummeted 75 percent in some areas.

• The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998 and the rate of warming has nearly doubled since 1975 (NOAA, www.climate.gov).

Many of you will have by now heard the story of a juvenile whale recently recovered in the Philippines with 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach. It had died of gastric shock. That may be 7,000 miles from home, but plastic is an omnipresent, immediate presence in our lives. Head west from Orange Street on Interstate 90, and you’ll get a very tangible reminder of our complicity in plastic consumption. This year’s winter winds exposed the ugly underbelly of our habits that typically remain conveniently out-of-sight, out-of-mind at the landfill.

We’ve arranged our world so that our refuse quite literally disappears into our trash cans when we throw things “away.” We prefer it that way, because the bags along the highway are an unpleasant, inconvenient reminder that we’re at fault, but there really is no “away.” We need to confront own consumption habits as if our plastic had to end up in our own back yard. After all, microplastics are an increasing threat not only to distant marine life, but also to birds and freshwater animals.

Some of the most concerning environmental trends are those not easily noticed, like declines in insect populations. Our kids learn about honeybees and pollination in grade school, but all too often adults lack the foresight or urgency to imagine what our kids’ future would look like without the bees. If you tend to be a little OCD about the weeds on your prim lawn or the eroding and degrading wonts of water and sun, you are complicit.

The aesthetic of homogeneity and the straight line and the ethic of complete order and control are at the very heart of our ecological crisis, and it is the duty of every parent and teacher to keep every child’s natural predilection for freedom, diversity, complexity and messiness alive. Kids also need to learn that some inconvenience in life is healthy and OK. This will go a long way toward protecting our species. Maybe the kids at least will retain the wisdom of letting creeks meander as if oblivious to where the rivers run, with the help of beavers and impenetrable tangles of willows and rotting deadfall. Meanwhile, adults need to rethink the utility of getting water from A to B in the most efficient way possible. Straight lines are not commonly found in nature for good reason.

Species cannot thrive without the ecological systems and processes that provided the evolutionary backdrop for their origin. The natural disturbance of fire and flood is critical to the long-term persistence of certain species. Since adults don’t much like disturbance, they streamline things and make them more predictable, constant and safe. Monocultures are a good example. While ignoring that a diverse, complex system is more resilient than a homogenous one, large scale farming has become extremely vulnerable to unanticipated major environmental change, which is fast approaching. Both the rural eastern and the wild western landscapes of Montana need disturbance and diversity to ensure long-term sustainability.

We are privileged to live in a state where self-sufficiency, gathering, hunting and farming traditions are still honored, practiced and encouraged, where independence of mind, body and spirit are valued — certainly more than in cosmopolitan areas. As our demographics evolve and technology and modernity increasingly encroach on our more remote natural places, our daily routines and our children’s imaginations, we would be well served to recognize the values that are at stake.

MUD is currently considering new ambitious initiatives. As we work to increase our institutional capacity, set targets for our community’s future and refocus on environmental education, I hope you will support us and embrace solutions in your daily routines. Please join our Earth Day celebration and help “Protect Our Species.” Email director@mudproject.org for more information.

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Filip Panusz is executive director of the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project.

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