A hawk stands guard over Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park.
By Scott Roller, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
The “Let’s Talk About Parks” series is designed to encourage exploration and discovery of Pittsburgh’s urban parks.
Our spinning planet dazzles us with endless levels of amazement every day. It holds the distinction of being the densest planet in the universe while its multiple layers include a two-tiered core swirling with molten iron and nickel. Earth’s oceans, seas and bays hold nearly 1.5 billion cubic kilometers of water, cover 70 percent of the planet and host nearly 2 million species of animals and plants. Earth has every type of topography imaginable, from the streams and hilly wooded terrain of Pittsburgh’s city parks to the sandy dunes of the Arabian deserts, and on to the shining icy peaks of Greenland. Earth is a gorgeous, thriving sphere of life that gives us a home, provides our food and allows us to experience all it means to be human.
With all of its many adaptive powers, why have we designated April 22 as Earth Day, and is it necessary to dedicate a day each year to examining our relationship with our host planet?
If Earth could communicate in our language, it would likely write “YES” in letters a thousand feet high. Each human has an astounding impact on our planet. There are more than 7.5 billion of people on Earth, with four babies born each second of every day. During the 20th century alone, the world population grew from 1.65 billion to 6 billion. Advances in industry, travel, technology and health care paved the way for population increases across the planet, and with this comes increased expectations of Earth. Every one of us requires shelter, heat or cooling, and sustenance, all of which take a toll on our planet. The shear volume of our worldwide consumption is eye opening, with half a million new television sets sold each day and millions of gallons of fuel flowing through our nearly 2 billion cars. We consume 11 million pounds of food every second.
How is our planet faring with all that the modern world asks of it? There are undoubtedly challenges, many of which the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and fellow environmental nonprofits throughout the region work every day to address. Worldwide, nearly 1.5 billion hectares of forest have been lost so far in 2017, and 2 billion hectares have disappeared to soil erosion. Acreage of parkland to which the Parks Conservancy brings its expertise and dedication has increased during the past year, adding Emerald View Park’s 257 acres to its fold. Toxic chemicals released into the environment so far this year top 2.8 million tons, while the past year saw the Frick Environmental Center — designed to be LEED platinum, Living Building Challenge certified and one of the greenest buildings on Earth — open in Pittsburgh’s own Frick Park.
While the start of the modern environmental movement is deservedly credited to Pittsburgher Rachel Carson and her classic 1962 book “Silent Spring,” Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson gave life to the first Earth Day as we know it in 1970. He organized a “teach in” that aimed to bring attention to a massive oil spill that had happened the year prior in Santa Barbara, Calif. Its intent of acknowledging environmental challenges, coming together to find solutions, and celebrating the natural world has carried through worldwide events each April 22 for the past 47 years, including Pittsburgh’s own rich history of Earth Day gatherings.
Nearly 11 trillion tons of carbon dioxide emissions have been released into our atmosphere to date, and the number of world citizens with no access to clean drinking water increases at a rate of two each second that passes. These fantastical numbers underscore the vital work the Parks Conservancy does in its environmental education programs, green infrastructure and stormwater management work. Thousands of kids and adults alike gain knowledge and environmental power through the Conservancy’s programs each year, and millions of gallons of stormwater are safely absorbed into our city’s parklands annually as a result of dozens of carefully planned green infrastructure installations. While ease of world travel and shifting climates have enabled destructive invasive plants and tree disease to spread in our region, Parks Conservancy arborists, field and restoration ecologists, naturalist educators and thousands of volunteers work year-round to combat them our city parks.
This Earth Day, know that while there is still much to do, there is also plenty to celebrate. Pittsburgh’s park system is world-class, our riverfronts are thriving with life, and there is an increasing interest in solar-powered homes and businesses. Groups such as Zero Fossil Energy Outfitters and Green Mountain Energy — which use sustainable energy sources like sun, water and wind power — and buildings like the Parks Conservancy’s Frick Environmental Center take advantage of the trillions of megawatt hours of clean solar energy that strikes Earth each year. On Earth Day, venture outside, learn about and experience the natural world, and promise it you will do all you can to keep it healthy, vibrant and beautiful.
For schedule of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy’s Earth Day 2017 at Frick Environmental Center on Saturday visit www.pittsburghparks.org/earth-day.
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