Editor's Desk - April 2012
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Does Sustainability Matter?

Here in the Chicago area, where Recreation Management's main office is located, we're about to close out the warmest March on record. In fact, as of March 24, the average temperature for the month was 54.6 degrees Fahrenheit, 16.7 degrees above normal.

And, in fact, these warmer temperatures have been the norm this month across a broad swath of the United States. Pretty much the entire Midwest, stretching from Canada to Texas, and from Colorado and Wyoming to West Virginia and Ohio, has experienced average temperatures that are higher than usual. Temperature records were broken in more than 1,054 locations from March 13 to 19.

For us, that means an earlier return of the migrant birds, an earlier chorusing of Spring Peepers, daffodils and magnolias bloomed and blown before the first day of spring even arrived and—for me, anyway—an earlier return to the nagging guilt of neglected yard work.

April, of course, will bring its showers, flowers and more spring. But it also brings Earth Day, that annual reminder to respect the home planet. While the economic recession has put environmental issues on the backburner for many governments and people, they haven't gone away. We still live on a planet with finite resources. And the gathering of those resources is not without danger. (Witness the Fukushima meltdown in Japan; the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in West Virginia as just a sampling of energy-related environmental disasters from the past few years.)

The warmer-than-expected winter and spring has brought these concerns back to the forefront for some people. (For others, these concerns never went away.) And while many delighted in hanging up their coats and hats in favor of shorts and sandals, I was dismayed. I mean, who wants an extra two months of mosquitoes? An earlier onset of allergy season? (And yes, that pesky yard work.)

Now, hold on just a second. I know that there are probably readers out there who believe the idea of human-caused global climate change is a hoax. And that's fine. I'm not here to argue you out of that position. But I do want to pose one question: Does it matter?

What I mean is, OK, let's say it's all a hoax. Let's just agree for a moment that there's no such thing as global climate change. Or maybe there is, but it's not caused by human activity. Let's suppose for a moment that it's all made up. Or even if it's not made up, let's suppose there's nothing we can do to stop it.

Doesn't it still make sense to conserve? Doesn't it still make sense to do things in ways that avoid polluting the air and water? That make less waste? That use less energy? After all, when we use fewer resources, we also usually save money. These practices generally have health payoffs as well. And, let's face it, even if we decide to drill here and drill now, the earth's resources are not infinite. Doesn't it make sense to slow down? To buy time for our children—or grandchildren—to come up with better solutions? With better ways of relying on their home planet to sustain their lives and lifestyles?

Conservation is not a liberal or a conservative agenda. Some of the historic proponents of conservation—Theodore Roosevelt, who created the Forest Service and National Parks; Richard Nixon, who established the Environmental Protection Agency; Ronald Reagan, who fought for the Montreal Protocol, which aimed to phase out the production of substances that contribute to ozone depletion—were far from liberal. They were practical, and understood the common-sense nature of conserving nature for us, and for future generations.

Many professionals working in parks and recreation, sports and fitness are deeply involved in providing facilities that have a smaller impact on the environment. And I'd be willing to bet that, regardless of your politics, most of you understand the pragmatic nature of this mission. In the past five years, I've seen LEED certification and sustainable design of landscapes and buildings go from an occasional novelty to a widespread practice.

So as we approach Earth Day's 42nd anniversary, let me ask you: How are you working to conserve resources? To improve the quality of life for the community you serve? To shrink your facility's footprint on the Earth? Do you think it matters?

Happy Earth Day!

Emily Tipping
Editorial Director,
Recreation Management