The modern environmental movement probably began with the writings of Henry David Thoreau (“Walden Pond”) and John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. Aldo Leopold (“A Sand County Almanac,” 1949) and Rachael Carson (“Silent Spring,” 1962) later wrote about the toll being taken on the environment by industrial chemicals, herbicides, pesticides and poor agricultural and wildlife management practices.

The 1960s saw accelerating public pressure to pass stricter environmental protection legislation. In 1969, an oil spill off the pristine Santa Barbara coast resulted in a die-off of marine life and devastation of the California coastline. That same year, the surface of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire. Lake Erie was proclaimed “dead” by environmental activists, and smog in Los Angeles was so thick that it could look like nightfall at noon.

Indiana rivers were often covered with foam from excessive phosphate in the water. Raw sewage and industrial waste were routinely dumped into waterways, and the bald eagle population was plunging.

In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was created by act of Congress, largely in response to pressure from environmental activists.

The face of the environmental movement today is that of 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who gave an impassioned speech to world leaders at the UN last week. In the 21st century, the emphasis has shifted to the loss of wildlife habitat, rising global temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, melting ice sheets, and loss of biodiversity.

“The two most pressing issues we face today are habitat loss and climate change, and these issues are interrelated,” says Jonathan Baillie, chief scientist of the National Geographic Society. For a list of ways in which the changing climate will affect Indiana plant growers and regional planners, visit the Purdue University Climate Change Research Center.

In Madison County, several non-governmental organizations offer residents a chance to actively contribute to improving our local environment. The White River Watchers’ mission statement is “to protect the White River ecosystem for the present and future use of all by means of community involvement and education.” The White River Watchers of Madison County sponsors communitywide river cleanups and educational programs open to the public.

The Red-tail Land Conservancy is a local land trust that has been conserving natural areas since 1999. Their mission is to preserve, protect and restore habitat and farm land in east central Indiana (including Madison County) while increasing awareness of our natural heritage. RLC has preserved 2,700 acres of some of central Indiana’s most beautiful landscapes. Their art exhibit, “Open Space: Art about the Land,” will be at the Anderson Museum of Art starting Nov. 20.

Other environmental organizations with members in Madison County include the Robert Cooper Audubon Society (Muncie), the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Association (Indianapolis), the Hoosier Environmental Council (Indianapolis), and Heart of the River (Anderson).

Every act of environmental responsibility matters, regardless of how small.

Sheryl Myers is a founding director of Heart of the River Coalition. On Nature is published Tuesdays in

The Herald Bulletin.

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