I have a lifelong love of nature and the environment and was green long before the color became the environmental buzzword we use now.

One day in March, I was terribly disturbed when I walked out of Ekstrom Library and noticed a grassy area by one of the big beautiful oak trees near the east entrance. Scattered among the grass and tree roots were piles and layers of cigarette butts. As I walked around and inspected the surrounding area and the area behind the concrete ramp (by the windows), I became more and more disgusted by what I saw. So, I pulled out my trusty iPhone, and took a few pictures. I wasn’t sure what I would do with them, but I knew they would serve a purpose. And I knew that I was now on a mission and that I had to do something.

When I returned to my office in the library, I uploaded my pictures and attached them to an e-mail addressed to President Ramsey; Brent Fryrear, Staff Senate chair; and Justin Mog, assistant to the provost for sustainability initiatives. My intent was more than just to express my concern and disgust at the horrible amount of cigarette butts littering our beautiful campus. I also suggested that we have a campus clean-up day in coordination with the Earth Day events planned for April where volunteers could help pick up as much litter as possible.

Thankfully, they were all for it, and my mission fast became a reality. On April 15, Justin and I gathered volunteers for the Campus Clean-Up. Among them were members of the women’s basketball team and President Ramsey, himself. We started from the area beside the SAC and Red Barn, and although we worked for only for one hour, we did make a difference. We all were amazed — albeit, not in a positive way — at the high quantity of butts and other bits of trash we collected. The hope we all have is for the campus smoking ban to eliminate, or at least heavily reduce, those quantities in the future, and for everyone to realize that every bit of trash he or she drops adds up.

When we litter, we do more than create an eyesore. I truly believe that the Earth — this beautiful, fragile, overpopulated planet we call home — is not just a big, lifeless, rock floating in space. It is a living, breathing, life-giving organism. That is why many of us refer to it as our Mother. What is so tragic is that she is dying — and, for the most part, we humans are the disease. We are polluting her breath (the sky), her skin (the ground) and her blood (the waters). We are slashing her lungs (the trees). How can we not see the damage we are doing every day? Damage which sadly, in many cases, cannot be reversed.

Even George Carlin, the great irreverent comedian, saw the plight — and blight — of the planet at the hands of humans and wrote a humorously poignant version of the song, America the Beautiful:

Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain,

For strip-mined mountain’s majesty above the asphalt plain.

America, America, man sheds his waste on thee,

And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea.

Perhaps, if we all start right now, we can make America, and Earth, beautiful once again. We each have the power. All we need is the will.