June 5 is World Environment Day, now celebrating its 40th anniversary.

I wish my father could be here to share in the festivities. As the founder of Earth Day, he recognized long before most of us how important it is that we act as good stewards of our land, air and water.

My father gave me many gifts, but perhaps the greatest gift he gave me is the understanding that in ways small or large, individual action matters, and we as individuals have the power to change the world in often unimaginable ways. That is at the heart of Earth Day and of World Environment Day.

World Environment Day, established two years after the first Earth Day, encourages people across the globe to do something positive, something extra, to protect the world around us.

Take the issue of water. The world faces a growing crisis of water scarcity. Unless we take action to resolve it, the projected water shortages are likely to lead to conflict between nations within 10 years, according to a new report for the State Department by the National Intelligence Council. But if we all took one small action that reduced our water consumption, whether it was to install a low flow faucet or a rain barrel, we could make a difference. The collective benefit of millions of people taking action would be meaningful, just as it would if everyone stopped using disposable plastic bags whenever possible.

All of us have the opportunity to make a contribution to a clean environment. We must do this at the most basic level regarding how we treat our limited natural resources — our land, our water, our air — because each of us has a role to play as stewards of the future.

We must forge a sustainable conservation ethic. We do this not just by electing public officials who take the right stand on important issues and by holding corporations accountable for their business practices, but also by taking personal responsibility for our own impact on a finite natural world.

This is what World Environment Day is about. Take action however you can, call on your elected officials to adopt sensible environmental policies, use your words and your actions to do something to make the world a better place on June 5.

My father often said, “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.” Our wealth and economic well-being depend on ample supplies of clean water, clean air and productive farms and forests, managed in a way that doesn’t mortgage the future for short-term gains today.

I ask you to remember this lesson from my father: In ways small or large, what you do matters. Please do your part for the environment on this World Environment Day.

Tia Nelson is executive secretary of the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands and is the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who founded Earth Day in 1970. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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Forty years ago the UN General Assembly passed a resolution against "hostile environmental modification techniques...

The beauty and the tragedy of everyday life in a war zone.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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