On Earth Day, consider a personal journey to save the planet
Sweepin’ the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet.
Can you tell me how to get
How to get to Sesame Street.”
— The Sesame Street theme
That song has been running through my head all week. Perhaps it is an antidote to the bad news: war, rising temperatures, fierce storms, wildfires, flood and drought, rising sea levels, forced migrations.
I walk a beach or traipse about woods in a county preserve, breathing in “sweet air.” On the way to a park, I see pines burning on bulldozed tracts; they remind me that in some quarters, the old order prevails.
Care of the planet is a personal journey. Sunny days motivated Bob Bruninga, an energetic and optimistic problem solver. Years ago, he powered his house and car with solar and taught others how to do it. He also talked up the virtues of electric vehicles to anyone who would listen and mentored would-be owners. “Our gasoline burning habits and cars are the #1 problem that we Americans can fix as individuals,” he wrote me in an email.
In 2010, author Donna Day, a peace and nature advocate who lives in Venice, went solar with a water heater and attic fan. Over time, she added panels to her roof to power her home. She plans her electrical usage around times when the sun is shining, to maximize its benefits. In 2018, she says, “A dream came true when I purchased an electric car, which is powered by the sun via the panels on the roof.” Her advice to beginners: “Start where you can and make it happen.”
Sustainability was the focus of Jodi John’s work for Sarasota County. She lent her intelligence and enthusiasm to projects large and small. We worked the Phillippi Farmhouse Market together, and most weeks she turned up with new ways to use sun power. Shoppers were treated to chocolate chip cookies baked in her sun oven.
Preserving the natural environment is Laurel Schiller’s mission in life. My friend and business partner, Laurel has advocated for the planet for many years, including serving as a planning commissioner for Sarasota County. At her nursery, Florida Native Plants and Landscaping, she teaches people how to create gardens that invite the “neighbors” in — birds, butterflies and other pollinators evicted when land is cleared.
In New York City in the ’70’s, “guerrilla gardeners” tossed “seed bombs” in vacant lots and other waste places in the city. Their goal was to green up unsightly areas. The idea spread around the world. Now the focus is to use seeds of plants native to the specific area, to feed wildlife.
Trees have always served as a vital resource for humanity, but conserving them has lagged behind. Centuries ago, Ireland’s forests were depleted. Landscapes morphed into green fields. Now the original landscape is being restored on a 12-acre tract with native trees.
On a larger scale, the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast’s mission is to preserve habitat and benefit wildlife by purchasing and protecting tracts of land.
Dwindling resources, such as water, alarm people into action. Near Orlando, the Little Wekiva River dried up and disappeared. It moved people to act on its behalf. Orange County voters passed an amendment to protect waterways in that area.
The courts have become another arena to move us forward. Personhood for a river? Litigators take on cases that a few years ago would have been considered ludicrous.
The beauty of nature has been the motivation for my own work. “[T]hey are blooming for the sake of their own beauty,” Gloria Jahoda wrote in The Other Florida. I think of her as I photograph wildflowers in Polk and Highlands counties.
Some of these plants are so rare that only a few populations remain. In order to survive, they must be protected and propagated.
Bok Tower Gardens’ conservation program preserves rare plants such as the Florida goldenaster. From collected plants, new ones are grown and reintroduced into reserves such as South Fork in Manatee County.
As I write this, two chuck will’s widows outside my window are calling back and forth, incessant, adamant, indefatigable —what we need to be if we are to get to Sesame Street.