Earth Day is not a crunchy granola holiday about a utopian future filled with solar-powered cars.

It is — and from the beginning has been — about education. It is less celebration than it is workshop, and that is exactly how it was envisioned in 1969 when it was first proposed as a way to teach about the environment.

It was bipartisan from the start. U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin, joined forces with Rep. Pete McCloskey, a Republican from California, to get it rolling.

It has never been about pitting conservation against companies. The organizer that the politicians hired, Denis Hayes, relied heavily on union members like those from the United Auto Workers to get the event off the ground.

That is because what is good for workers is good for the planet and vice versa. Especially in Western Pennsylvania.

Lumber and paper industries in the U.S. plant more than 1.7 million of the 4 million trees planted every year. This makes sense. A cattle ranch doesn’t butcher all its livestock and just shut down. Replenishing is good for the planet — making all those oxygen-producing trees — but also essential for business.

It is in the best interest of a company to safeguard the air and water as much as profits and products. They should embrace the environment around them because it is their home — and that of their employees. At the same time, a prosperous society develops the technology, as well as the self-interest, to keep the environment healthy.

The environment is more than just the trees and rocks and the river. It also includes all of the living and nonliving things that make up an area. That’s the mussels coming back in the Kiski River, thanks to years of improvements guided by the Clean Water Act. It’s the once-endangered bald eagles that we watch on nest cams from Harmar to the U.S. Steel plant in West Mifflin.

And it is the people. The ones who work in local industries and the ones who just live nearby. They all benefit from the natural splendor of the region, from the Laurel Highlands to the Allegheny Valley that informed the childhood of Rachel Carson.

— The Tribune-Review, Greensburg/TNS

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