What Earth Day Means To Me


Dendra Best. Executive Director WasteWater Education 501(c)3

I am taking an online course from the University of Bath about sustainability and the question was posed, what motivates someone to be environmentally aware/responsible?

Is it a combination of influences? Parents and upbringing, community and culture, education and exposure to information? I think it’s ‘all of the above’.

We lived in the industrial heart of the United Kingdom. My father worked all his life in heavy industry, a master toolmaker. One of the fondest memories I have is of going with him on Saturday mornings and watching the lathes and drill presses. It was gritty grimy work, both for him and my uncles who worked in the steel mills.

But the fact that the local ‘pool’ we walked to to feed the ducks and swans was a disused gravel pit which regularly flooded from possibly the most polluted tributary of the River Tame didn’t reveal the irony for many years. Perhaps it was that community environment but we were raised to cherish the backyard garden or the train trips out to the country park or the annual 2 week ‘holiday’ down to the west coast of England, to Devon or Cornwall.

I grew to love those things because he did. If I close my eyes I can still remember the smell of that first full force of sea air blasting in over the vast expanse of tidal flats. I can still picture his customary Admiral Nelson impression “I see no ships!” – makes me smile every time.

I think I knew we lived in a place with dreadful air and land pollution but the issue didn’t really hit home until what was probably the last ‘holiday’ I went on with my parents. Teenagers all reach that point of course.

For those in the US who shudder at the memory of the Exxon Valdez or the Deepwater Horizon, what was to come was all too painfully real for those in the UK who still remember the Torrey Canyon.

In March 1967 the oil tanker Torrey Canyon broke apart on the coast of Cornwall, fouling 70+ miles of pristine rocky shoreline and killing tens of thousands of shore birds and marine wildlife. The nightly news was full of the Navy’s attempts to bomb the ship to pieces or set the thick crude on fire. It was the first exposure to heartbreaking images that have now just become so common place it barely merits a few minutes on the nightly news.

The Torrey Canyon came back into the news after all these years during the Deepwater Horizon debacle.

But back to the story. It was a year later when that last family vacation took place and it became crystal clear how the results of what had happened would be with us for years, and as it turns out for many years still to come. There we were down in a secluded cove, an idyllic day, when the dog came back limping. Down in one of his exploring holes he had found the Torrey Canyon and his feet, really hairy feet, were now caked with sticky tar. He was not happy and neither was my Mom who didn’t fancy the dog dragging that mess through the rental cottage.

So from somewhere we found a chemical remover, which burned his pads and space between his toes. There really was no good solution.

It is a sad fact that the dispersants used to combat the Torrey Canyon were later shown to have killed almost as much wildlife as the oil itself.

What happened to the recovered crude? It’s still here, and doing damage as seen in this BBC news article.

So for all those who jump on the Earth Day bandwagon, or use the occasion to market the latest green widget, it’s purpose is real, it’s motive’s are far more important.

If something that happened over  50 years ago can still be a threat ……. then we need to hold anyone accountable who doesn’t agree with having Earth ‘Year’, all year, every year …..

Dendra J. Best. Executive Director
Wastewater Education 501(c)3

My father only came to visit Michigan once before he died - but then out on the 'big lake' he thought he already had and this was Heaven ....
My father only came to visit Michigan once before he died – but then out on the ‘big lake’ he thought he already had and this was Heaven ….

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