Earth Day 2013 - Remembering Early Environmentalists


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On April 22nd, people all over the world will celebrate the 43rd anniversary of Earth Day. Besides conducting environmentally friendly projects within their communities, over one billion people are also expected to participate in rallies to voice their concern about the dire effects of global warming on our planet and vow to take actions to help reverse the trends.

While that is definitely a much needed step in the right direction and may hopefully even make a slight difference, the reality is, that on April 23rd, most of these 'activists' will return to their normal lives and habits. The real activists are the people that consider every day 'Earth Day', not because they are looking for fame, but because they genuinely care about the planet and the creatures that live on it - People similar to the three listed below:

Johnny Appleseed

Johnny Appleseed was an adventurer and entrepreneur who never consciously set out to be a naturalist. But thanks to his love of nature, animals and of course apples, that is how he is fondly remembered today.

Born Johnny Chapman, his lifelong attachment to apples began at the age of twenty-three, when he headed from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, carrying with him, just some personal belongings and a bag of free apple seeds obtained from local cider mills.

Once he reached his destination, Johnny made it his mission and business to plant apple orchards not just in Pennsylvania, but also, Ohio and Indiana. It is no wonder that he is today better known as Johnny 'Appleseed'.

However, what most people do not realize is that Johnny was much more than that. The life-long vegetarian was also a naturalist who loved animals and was known to try save every little creature that came his way. It is said that he often released animals from traps and that when he took honey from beehives, he always left some behind for the insects. When settlers set their lame injured horses free to fend for themselves, it was Johnny who rounded them up and tended to them. His special bond with animals led to the speculation that he had the ability to communicate with them.

Johnny also seemed to have a special knack of being friends with everyone, irrespective of whether they were Native Americans or Settlers, young or old. It is therefore no wonder that this eccentric man who never wore shoes and roamed around the countryside telling tall tales, is so well regarded and fondly remembered, even today.

Charles Darwin

While best known as the scientist that started a scientific revolution with his theory of evolution, Charles Darwin was first and foremost a naturalist. Even as a young boy he spent copious amounts of time exploring and collecting all kinds of specimens, ranging from unique pebbles to bird's eggs.

His opportunity to pursue this passion as a lifelong career came when his favorite Cambridge professor John Stevens Henslow asked him if he would be interested in sailing around the world, aboard the British ship HMS Beagle. Though the two-year voyage was being undertaken to promote trading relations with other countries, there would be plenty of opportunities for Darwin to explore new lands and collect plant and animal samples.

The trip which ended up taking a full five years, turned out to be the pivotal turning point in Darwin's life - One that was responsible for him coming up with the theory of evolution, which he deduced resulted from a process that he called natural selection.

However, whilst he is best known for this revolutionary idea today, his love for all creatures big and small never waned during his 73-year lifespan. In fact, unknown to most people, the last book he published just six months before he died, was not about some earth-shattering evolution idea, but about the lowly earthworm. Entitled, 'The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits', it was the result of about 44 years of intermittent research on the subject and not surprisingly, an instant success in a world where agriculture was the mainstay!

Jane Goodall

While most animal activists merely 'talk the talk', Jane Goodall is one of the few that actually 'walked the walk' too - By living amongst and really understanding the one animal she was passionate about - The chimpanzee. And, she did it long before it was considered 'fashionable' to be an activist.

Jane's first exposure to the African ape came in the form of a soft cuddly chimpanzee named Jubilee, when she just about a year old. Modeled after the first chimpanzee born in captivity at the London Zoo, it became her favorite toy, one that she has till this day. While she never thought she would end up living with the chimpanzees, her love for animals was apparent at a very young age. She once spent five hours inside a chicken coop just to witness the laying of an egg.

As Jane grew older, she often dreamt of living amongst the wildlife in Africa. However in the 1950's, scientists studied animals in the zoo or inside their labs, not in the wild. Besides, Jane did not even have a degree.

But as luck would have it, a childhood friend who had moved to Kenya with her family, invited Jane to visit. The animal paradise was everything that Jane had imagined it would be, and more. Just as she was trying to figure out how to extend her stay, she met world famous paleoanthropologists, Louis and Mary Leakey, who took a liking to the shy girl and offered her a job.

While Louis Leakey was focused on early human fossils, he was always intrigued by the long-haired chimpanzees that inhabited the forests near Lake Tanganyika, largely because he believed there was a close link between them and early humans. He offered Jane the chance to perform an in-depth study and even though it meant camping out in the wilderness in an area fraught with danger, she readily accepted.

Though it took some time and a lot of patience Jane managed to gain the trust and respect of a group of chimpanzees that she had named and become intimately familiar with, by observing over a period of many years.

Her close proximity with the apes allowed her to gain invaluable insights about these animals - Like the fact that they are omnivores, not herbivores as had long been believed. The most important discovery Jane made is that just like humans, chimpanzees are smart enough to make and use 'tools' to help them perform tasks. This stunned the scientific community, who until then had thought that only humans possessed that capability.

However, while the world loved reading about her experiences in the National Geographic Magazine, the scientific community largely ignored her because she was not one of them. Realizing that this would be a big impediment to getting her work recognized, Louis Leakey convinced UK's prestigious Cambridge University to accept her into their advanced degree program. In 1965, after completing her doctorate work, plain old Jane Goodall became Dr. Jane Goodall - A legitimate scientist!

As the importance of her research began getting recognized, Jane started receiving help for her projects from organizations all over the world. In 1965, the National Geographic Society granted her enough funds to build a formal research facility to observe chimpanzee behavior.

As years have gone by the nature of Jane's focus has changed. Now instead of observing the animals, she is trying to save them from becoming extinct. In 1994, she established the TACARE (take care) program, whose main goal is to restore the forests that are the chimpanzee's natural habitat and also help improve the quality of life of the people that live on the outskirts.

Her ChimpanZoo program has helped improve the lives of chimpanzees that reside in zoos worldwide. And she is not done yet -The 79-year old environmentalist still spends most of her time touring the world and talking to people about issues that are most dear and near to her heart - One of which is of course, saving the chimpanzees!

Happy Earth Day!

Resources: Who Was Charles Darwin, Johnny Appleseed, Who Is Jane Goodall

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