Earth Day challenges

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, celebrated each year on April 22.

It’s a challenge for me to get excited on Earth Day, although you’d think I’d be thrilled about it. After all, it’s the one day of the year when environmental reporting is most visible.

But I’m fortunate that my newspaper has made reporting on the environment a priority. My articles routinely hit page A1 and we even have a special biweekly section about the environment called “Our Bay.”

See the clocks in the steeple? I climbed all the way up there for an Earth Day story.

Earth Day also poses challenges for reporters like me who cover the environment day-in and day-out.

First are the logistical challenges.

Approximately 800 gazillion Earth Day events are planned on and near April 22. I just can’t get to all of them, and it’s difficult to say “no” to people. (I am just too nice, I suppose!) As well, many of the events are similar to one another — you simply can’t publish multiple stories about tree plantings and stream cleanups.

And that brings me to another challenge: creativity.

Usually the same types of events are planned each year. Once you’ve covered one rally or cleanup or educational event, you’ve covered them all.

There’s also a creativity challenge for non-event stories, such as the “perspective” stories or “Sunday” stories — the in-depth articles that explore a key issue. How many times can I write that despite all the efforts, the Chesapeake Bay is still in terrible shape? How can I tell that same story differently?

The last problem is “greenwashing.” Simply put, that’s when people put an environmental veneer over something — usually a product. For a month now, my e-mail inbox has been flooded with pitches to write about this “green” product or that “green” product. Often those products aren’t really very “green” at all, and it takes time to sort through what is legitimate and what is not.

This year, I started with Earth Day early, and wrote a feature about a week and-a-half ago. The story was really a vehicle so I could publish a companion sidebar listing all the local events.

In today’s paper, one of our freelance writers previewed an Earth Day festival planned for this weekend. One of our staff writers wrote about a government solar project.

Today, I spent the morning at a school and church were kids were helping plant “rain gardens,” which reduce polluted stormwater runoff. That story will be in tomorrow’s paper.

I hope my readers will find our coverage of Earth Day sufficient. If not, it will help me plan better for next year.

I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite Earth Day stories that I’ve done.

This is a fun, short story about St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in downtown Annapolis. This is the church that gives Church Circle its name.

The church steeple has lighted clocks on it, and the church decided to replace the light bulbs with energy-saving CFL bulbs. A photographer and I went along and it made for a dusty adventure!

An illuminating way to mark Earth Day

The path to going greener at St. Anne’s Parish in downtown Annapolis was steep, narrow and rather dusty.Two church employees and one member scaled steep flights of stairs and ladders to replace the light bulbs that illuminate the four clocks in the steeple of the iconic church on Church Circle.

Gone are the old, 100-watt incandescent bulbs. In their place are the corkscrew-shaped compact fluorescent light bulbs that are all the rage for their energy efficiency. Each burns just 23 watts of power and shines just as bright as the old bulbs.

“I’m just trying not to think of where I am as I’m doing this,” said parishioner Kirsten Chapman as she stood on a narrow platform to replace the bulbs.

A look down revealed a drop of several stories to the bottom.

At $3 each, the compact fluorescent bulbs are a small but symbolic contribution that St. Anne’s is making to greater environmental awareness and energy efficiency in the city of Annapolis, officials said.

Although the 4-foot-wide clocks are part of the Episcopal church’s building, the clocks and their bulbs technically belong to the city government, said the Rev. Bob Wickizer, acting rector.

The current church building is the third for St. Anne’s and was built in the mid-1800s.

The Rev. Wickizer said no one knows for sure why or when exactly the clocks were installed, thou gh they are marked with the year 1927.

“I presume sometime around that era, the city decided the public needed to know the time of day,” the Rev. Wickizer said.

Normally, the city handles maintenance of the clocks, but St. Anne’s got permission to put inthe new light bulbs as a way to mark Earth Day.

There was only one hitch in the plans, though: once the intrepid environmentalists got to the top, they realized 16 bulbs were needed, and they only brought eight.

So, soon there will be another expedition up narrow passageways to make a small difference for the Earth.

Published 04/23/08, Copyright © 2010 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

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