Earth Day: a time to reflect on our impact

There is still time to take personal responsibility for the planet we inhabit.

Tomorrow is Earth Day, a time to review our obligation to care for the Earth and its natural resources.

In the East, we blast Appalachian mountaintops off into valleys for coal, which blocks miles of streams. In the Midwest, we plow up dry area grasslands to grow crops by taking too much water from underground aquifers. In the arid West, we dam rivers so that people and crops can live in deserts. The land becomes more saline, and the rivers no longer reach the sea. 

Before the Europeans colonized the Americas, Minnesota was a natural resource treasure. It had forests of virgin white pine and great deposits of rich iron ore. Our fertile glacial soils were nourished by the ample waters of our lakes, streams and aquifers.

But then our forests were clear cut, their lumber exported to the world. Most of the iron ore is gone, leaving behind those empty pits. We need to protect our remaining soil and the waters that nourish it.            

All over the earth, the abuse of nature continues. A billion people in less developed nations are hungry, while wealthier nations like ours make a place at the table for nearly a billion cars and trucks by converting food to fuel.

The consequences for these acts will not be sudden. It wonâÄôt be like the Great Flood of biblical times. Instead, rivers will gradually silt up dams and overflow them to resume their routes to the sea.

Soils, impoverished and eroded from single-cropping and excessive fertilizers, will no longer nourish our billions. A warming atmosphere, polluted by overuse of carbon fuels, will wreak its own havoc.        

There is still time âÄî but not much âÄî to take seriously the responsibility for the planet that comes with inhabiting it and enjoying its resources.