In our opinion: Caring for the planet

Published: Sunday, April 21 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

The sun rises over Mount Hood Thursday, March 8, 2012, in Portland, Ore. The largest solar storm in five years has engulfed Earth, but scientists say the planet has lucked out so far. The storm arrived more peacefully Thursday morning than it could have. Scientists say that could change as the storm spends the day shaking the planet's magnetic field. It could disrupt technology but also spread colorful Northern Lights. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Associated Press

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Life on planet Earth wasn't meant to be easy. Whenever mankind chooses to use a particular method to provide energy, shelter or other sort of progress there are ecological consequences.

Such tradeoffs aren't new. They're at least as old as finding ways to clean the filthy residue from the horses we once used for transportation. Today they involve much more complex methods of developing vast sums of energy and providing the types of transportation that can keep commerce smoothly flowing.

Many people tout the emergence of electric or hybrid vehicles as helping to reduce auto emissions, and yet those cars rely on electricity that is generated by means that pollute the air. Plastics have done wonders to improve the quality of life, but they present challenges for landfills. Computers have made countless tasks easier and worldwide communications instant and inexpensive, but they must be disposed of with caution, and on and on.

Answers aren't easy, and they must be pursued within the realm of free enterprise and profitability in order to sustain themselves.

But it is vitally important that humans continue searching for those answers and finding best practices. This pursuit, with an optimistic eye toward progress already made, should be the focus of Earth Day tomorrow.

Simply put, the earth is literally common ground for humankind — all share in its water, its fruits, its beauty and its sources of energy, and all call it home. It's also the only home the human race has or can hope to have. Despite the romance of exploring other planets within the solar system, none of them is capable of sustaining life even remotely as well as this one.

To the believing, stewardship over the earth and its resources is a scriptural mandate worthy of prayer and pondering. To all of mankind, however, it should be a self-evident duty.

Earth Day has come far since its inception in 1970. Back then it was a trendy movement associated with hippies and left-leaning politicians. Political divisions still exist, and they often stand in the way of progress and understanding. However, people of goodwill from all ends of the spectrum have come together in an effort to find answers. Important progress has been made.

Greenhouse gas emissions are on the decline nationwide, having fallen 7 percent since 2005. Air pollution is decreasing. Some estimates say the number of deaths attributed to fine particulates is on track to drop from 68,000 in 2005 to 36,000 in 2016.

To be sure, many serious challenges remain, but there are endless ways to measure the planet's health, and countless ways for each individual to improve his or her small footprint on it. Trees can be planted and cultivated; trash can be minimized and handled correctly; and resources can be consumed sparingly.

This is an age in which being "green" has become popularized. But to some it also has taken on negative connotations. Not all people will agree on the steps needed to properly care for the planet, but it is essential that all people unite in the need to provide that care.

Ultimately, human beings are stewards, not owners, of the earth. They may hold claim to a portion of it for a time, but death inevitably severs that claim. To care for the earth is to demonstrate a love and commitment to generations yet unborn. They are the ones who will inherit the fruits of our decisions, conscious or not, regarding how to interact with nature. It is a sacred responsibility.

We hope readers take time this Earth Day to think about this responsibility and to contemplate their role in replenishing the planet.

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