Janesville74.1°

Small changes only are first step to protect Earth

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Kayla Bunge
April 22, 2008
— When Julie Backenkeller goes to the grocery store, she puts her items in a cardboard box or a canvas bag.

She grows her own vegetables.


She composts or recycles nearly all of her waste and throws away very little.


Such small lifestyle changes have a big impact on the environment, Backenkeller said, but Earth is in dire straits.


It takes more than just those small changes to bring Earth out of desperation. It’s time for people to stand up and speak out on behalf of the planet.


“It’s great to sit in your living room with your feet up and talk about it,” said Backenkeller, a Janesville woman who’s taking steps to rally the community and make a difference for the good of the environment. “It’s not a spectator sport anymore.”


Realizing what’s obvious

The environment is in trouble, said Jeff McKinnon, a biology professor at UW-Whitewater. Rising temperatures exacerbated by the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in conjunction with habitat destruction is quickly moving plants and animals toward extinction.


“We’re burning blueprints for no reason,” he said. “It’s just reckless beyond belief.”


People finally are realizing what’s been going on for decades, McKinnon said, and a societal consensus that something is wrong seems to be building.


“It’s obvious,” he said. “For years, it’s been obvious.”


McKinnon said when today’s adults were children, they heard more birds singing during the day and more frogs croaking at night. But that’s changed, he said, as global warming has altered the environment.


It took mainstream attention to environmental issues—namely global warming—to convince people that their actions can have an impact, positive or negative, on the planet, said Dave Haldiman, a Janesville man also working to make the community aware of what it can do to help.


Backenkeller agrees.


“Enough people now are seeing the effects of 20 years of apathy,” she said. “If you said anything about a ‘green’ movement 20 years ago, you’d be called a tree hugger.


“Now it’s serious.”


And now that people have a sense of the trouble Earth is in, there’s only so much time to act before the damage is done, McKinnon said.


“The pace of change is very rapid,” he said. “And the models suggest we have a fairly narrow window of time to act.”


McKinnon said the first step is for people to behave maturely and make smart decisions. Then they have to speak up, he said.


Taking action locally

Frustrated with the local government’s lack of attention to environmental issues that affect people in Janesville and Rock County, Backenkeller and Haldiman teamed up to provide people with a “clean vehicle” for change.


They’ve started a group called Rock Environmental Network, which will be a local information source and a touchstone to local government.


Backenkeller and Halidman knew of dozens of independent groups in the area, but what was missing was a way for them to connect. They hope Rock Environmental Network will be that link.


“If we had a tagline it would be: Discover, communicate, act,” Haldiman said.


Backenkeller and Halidman believe the most important thing people can do now is get involved in their local government.


“When people lead, the leaders will follow,” Backenkeller said.


There’s no doubt some people are skeptical. They wonder how switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs or buying food in bulk with less packaging really makes a difference. And they wonder if their concerns will fall on the deaf ears of lawmakers.


“A person says, ‘What does it matter?’” Haldiman said. “What if a million people said that? What if a million people changed their minds about that and say, ‘Today I’m going to do something different?’


“That’s how things get changed.”


The purpose of the Rock Environmental Network is to educate people and give them a forum through which to voice their concerns.


“Until you change the laws … nothing’s going to change,” Backenkeller said. “We have to create a sense of urgency. It’s like a time bomb ticking.”


Easy ways to go green

-- Drive a more efficient car.


-- Buy local and organic products.


-- Unplug appliances and turn off lights when they’re not being used.


-- Compost.


-- Shop at secondhand stores.


-- Use a canvas bag or reuse paper bags when shopping.


-- Drive less, bike and walk more.


-- Eat fewer animal products.


-- Use more efficient appliances and lights.


-- Recycle.


More information

For more information about environmental issues that affect you locally or how to get involved, keep checking Rock Environmental Network’s Web site, www.rockco.org—expected to be running soon, or send the group an e-mail at rockenvironmentalnetwork@charter.net.


Here’s a sampling of the local organizations with which people can get connected through Rock Environmental Network:


-- Green-Rock Audubon Society.


-- Janesville Shade Tree Advisory Committee.


-- Rock Enviro Coalition.


-- UW-Rock County G.R.E.E.N. Scene.


-- Welty Environmental Center.


Links to state and national organizations will be available as well as information about pending environmental legislation and how to contact local, state and national lawmakers.



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