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We’ve Come a Long Way

By Greg Kozera - | Apr 28, 2021

Hope you had a Happy Earth Day. The world has changed a lot since I grew up in Pittsburgh. We had a large family and couldn’t afford passes to the local swimming pool. When it was hot we swam in a nearby creek. The water was cool and there were deep spots where the swimming was great. The water was orange from mine acid drainage. We tried not to drink it. As kids we never thought about all the bad stuff in that water. In the 1960s there weren’t many sewage treatment plants. We didn’t know every small community and trailer park dumped their raw sewage into that creek. It was probably only by the grace of God we didn’t get sick. When our hands started to turn blue from something in the water one day, it scared us enough to quit swimming there. We never told our parents.

Dirty water wasn’t the only problem. The Steel City was also the Smokey City because of smoke and soot from the steel mills and other factories. My grandfather and uncles worked in the mills. My dad chose carpentry instead. Our air in Pittsburgh had a foul smell. We got used to it. Before we moved to the suburbs our country cousins thought we were sick because our skin was so pale. We never got much sun. The smoke blocked it. I worked at a Country Club in high school. One morning a week, I helped an elderly shopkeeper do cleaning she couldn’t do. I swept the sidewalk first. It was always covered with a thin layer of ash. Anyone who wore a white shirt to the office could expect it to be some shade of grey by the end of the day.

In those days disposal sometimes meant burying things like dangerous chemicals. Out of site out of mind. They never stay buried. These sites are being dug up and cleaned up. Pittsburgh wasn’t unique. Most cities suffered from air, water and soil pollution. There were rivers that routinely caught fire. Companies and individuals used the environment as a dump. It took a national PR campaign to get people use litter bags in their car instead of throwing hamburger wrappers out the window.

The environmental movement was born because enough people had enough and wanted change. The 1960s and 70s were a time of turmoil and activism. The Vietnam War divided us.

Most people knew we had to do something about the environment. They needed leaders to follow. We needed Earth Day which is now 51 years old. Government acted because people demanded it. This wasn’t a time of empty talk and protests leaving trash behind for others to clean up. It was a time of positive action. I made calls to pollution hotlines and wrote letters. Ultimately, for me and others it was working for a company and becoming an environmental leader. We influenced positive environmental decisions. Ultimately as managers we made real changes making a difference. This got more positive results than carrying a sign or just saying no to everything.

In the 1970s there were dire predictions of the future where everyone needed to wear masks and live underground because the environment was destroyed. We didn’t let that happen. We are wearing masks but NOT because of bad environment. In Pittsburgh the air is clean, no smoke. The air in Charleston is cleaner today than 30 years ago. Tokyo, Japan has the largest population of any city on earth with 37+ million people. In 2018 when Lynnda and I were there, we were amazed by how clean it was. We did not see a scrap of paper or a cigarette butt on the ground. The air was clean. No smog or foul smells. The Japanese are creative and found ways to put millions of people in a small space and have clean environment.

Plum Creek where we swam as kids now has fish in it and ducks live there. No more orange water. The air, water and soil are cleaner for my children than when I was growing up. My grandchildren have probably the cleanest environment since the founding of our country. Unfortunately, this isn’t true everywhere on earth. We all live on the same planet, spaceship earth. We still have a global plastic waste problem. Air pollution doesn’t stay in Asia. Globally, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are increasing even though the U.S. has decreased GHG 22% since 2007.

There is still a lot of environmental work to do. We need environmental leaders who understand leadership is about influence. It is about developing people. It about setting the example for people to follow. It is about taking responsibility not blaming others. It is about finding ways to work together not putting people down. It is about being a person of integrity. Leaders don’t care whose idea it is. The goal is to solve the problem so everyone wins. The International Energy Agency (IEA) said the USA is the only major country meeting the Paris Climate targets. (Even though we weren’t in the agreement) A leader would use influence to help other countries duplicate U.S. successes and develop new ideas. The best solutions haven’t been discovered yet.

Great leaders can put a team together and bring out the best in everyone. They understand how important it is to celebrate successes. As a coach after a big win the boys need to celebrate the success. We can worry about the next opponent or fixing mistakes tomorrow. People who get to celebrate success tend to repeat it. They like how success feels.

We can all DO something positive. Set an example by not trashing the environment. Plant a tree. Reuse and recycle. Buy products made in the USA. They have a lower carbon footprint. At Shale Crescent USA we are bringing companies to the region who will be turning our plastic waste into valuable feedstock. All things are possible.