Do your part on World Environment Day

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

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