For Earth Day, metro Atlantans share greatest environmental concerns

For nearly 50 years, Earth Day has been mobilizing support for the environment. The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, engaged 20 million Americans and is credited with launching the modern environmental movement. In July of that year, President Richard Nixon proposed to create the Environmental Protection Agency as an independent agency of the federal government dedicated to environmental protection. Nixon also signed the Clean Air Act in December 1970 and the Endangered Species Act in 1973.

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By 1990, Earth Day had gone global. Today more than 1 billion people participate in Earth Day activities. Earth Day 2019 is dedicated to the Protect Our Species campaign, which seeks to raise awareness of the reasons for and the rate of extinction of millions of species. This year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked local environmental advocates of all sorts, ranging from industry experts to concerned citizens, to share — in their own words — their greatest concerns about the environment.

Jessica Carruth, 35, Atlanta

“Today, the greatest threat to the environment is food waste. When food is thrown away into landfills, it rots and becomes a powerful source of methane gas — leading to global warming, climate change and the pollution of the land, groundwater and waterways, which is often toxic to wildlife and humans.”

Ann Guckert, 74, Cobb County

“Clear-cutting of trees on property being developed is the environmental issue that concerns me most. First, in some cases, low-income houses are destroyed. A beautiful area is destroyed. Old-growth trees are gone. A comment about the fire at Notre Dame says the roof cannot be restored as it was because trees no longer grow tall enough. The houses built have no yards and very little space between neighboring houses. The houses don’t really look safe, particularly if you know how quickly they were built. However, trees emit oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. They clean the air. The air we breathe gets more dangerous when trees are cut down.”

Stephen Wooten, 59, Decatur

“My most pressing environmental concern is the accelerated pace at which our planet’s polar ice caps are melting. It’s one of the starkest indicators of rising global temperatures. Since 1978, Arctic sea ice has decreased roughly 13% every decade. Snow-covered sea ice helps cool our planet by reflecting 85% of sunlight. The less sunlight the Earth’s surface reflects, the more heat the planet absorbs. If this cycle continues, it can lead to a runaway greenhouse effect, which scientists say is what doomed the now-scorched planet of Venus.”

Rebecca Serna, 41, Kirkwood

“While climate change is an incredibly scary threat that could and is changing everything, I prefer to focus on the solutions. I became an active transportation advocate because the transportation sector is a leading contributor to pollution and climate change as well as a big factor in people and communities’ physical health. Bicycling may not work for everyone, but by making it feasible for as many people as possible, we can have an impact on our local and global climate. Combined with transit, scooting, running and walking, these active transportation modes are helping more and more people get out of their cars. As our city grows, we don’t really have a choice — it’s adapt and change or wither and die. That sounds so dramatic but I think it’s also true.”

Greg Kasparian, 57, Chattahoochee Hills (Serenbe) 

“My greatest concern about the environment starts locally, expands nationally, and is global. That concern is healthy drinking water. While recently attending the Biophilic Leadership Summit at Serenbe, we embarked on an intentional hike to our meeting space. The hike leader stopped at a creek a little down from ‘Be’ Rock. As we hiked, he explained each water molecule that went over the falls in front of us would have a different journey, but are all interconnected. A portion would be carried down into larger rivers and eventually lead to the Atlantic Ocean, some molecules would evaporate and form clouds that would rain on a neighboring state, while still other H2O molecules would travel halfway around the globe. Regardless of their respective journeys, the global water system is all interconnected. Ultimately, it is water we will all eventually drink.”

Sarah Biggers, 27, Atlanta

“My biggest concern is responsible consumerism. I own a cosmetics line, Clove + Hallow, and am distinctly aware of the difficulties that come with trying to function more sustainably, but if every business made baby steps towards lowering its environmental impact, those steps would add up to major impact. As consumers, we vote with our dollars and create market demand, so I’d like to see people shop more conscientiously by thinking through the businesses they are supporting and asking brands to do better.”

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Carol Hart, 58, Roswell

“My chief environmental concern for Earth Day is deforestation, especially in the Atlanta area. With all the construction, trees are being removed and not being replaced. We need to plant trees and preserve green space.”

Renee Skeete, 33, Atlanta

“Status-quo land use patterns and lack of safe active transportation infrastructure are accelerating climate change and impacting nearly every aspect of our health. Protecting the ecosystems of undeveloped land by increasing the density, affordability, and active transportation efficiency of our cities and towns will improve our air quality, physical activity levels, mental health and physical health. Making these environmental improvements in ways that will directly benefit marginalized people first will benefit all of us.”