Because the 40th anniversary of Earth Day is approaching on Thursday, I felt it appropriate to highlight its history and importance to Mainers and all Americans.

The first Earth Day in 1970 sprang out of America’s reaction to environmental degradation that had reached unacceptable levels.

Ohio’s Cuyahoga River caught fire in June 1969 and focused national attention on the scale of our environmental problems, which set the stage for national mobilization.

On the first Earth Day 40 years ago, over 20 million Americans came together to stand up for common sense environmental protection. America’s rivers no longer catch fire. But other problems, and new opportunities, have developed.

Our current moment presents not just an environmental turning point, but a huge economic opportunity. As in 1970, we are still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Whether it’s the gas we put in our gas tanks or the coal we burn in our power plants, our over-reliance on fossil fuels has America in a stranglehold.

We leave our communities vulnerable to coal ash spills like the one that happened in Tennessee in 2008, to arsenic and mercury in the water supply, and to the uncertainties of climate change.

The economic opportunity comes with the wide-scale deployment of clean, renewable, home-grown energy in the form of wind, solar, tidal and efficiency. Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin served the American people well by spearheading the first Earth Day in 1970.

This April 22, the 40th anniversary of the Earth Day, we need to see that kind of leadership again. The question is, do our senators have the political will to turn the corner?

Brian Leonard

Westbrook

April 22 marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. If you think you can’t make a difference, think again.

Often it’s the smallest changes — multiplied by millions of people — that have the biggest impact. Here are five simple things that we all can do on Earth Day and beyond:

1. Know your carbon footprint: We all want to be “greener” in our daily lives, but in order to do that effectively, we each need to know our carbon footprint.

Take five minutes and use The Nature Conservancy’s online tool at www.nature.org/carboncalculator. Then, commit to using just a little less carbon.

2. Time your shower: With the warmer months ahead of us, now is the time to start thinking about conserving our water. The next time you take a shower, time it. The next day, reduce that time by a minute or two.

3. Go for a walk: Even if it’s just around the block, getting outside is one of the best things you can do to connect to nature. Bring your kids, too.

A growing body of research suggests that a lack of exposure to nature is linked to rises in obesity, attention-deficit disorder and depression in children.

4. Speak up on climate change: Sens. John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman have introduced national legislation to reduce U.S. emissions. This is a critically important step in the fight against climate change. Let your legislators know you support it.

5. Find a farmers’ market: Farmers’ markets selling locally made fare abound in summer and fall. Find one near you and pick a day to check it out.

Michael Tetreault

The Nature Conservancy

Brunswick

Energy issues include wind, nuclear, warming

A recent article said that “GE looks to build wind turbines in Britain,” and suggests the United Kingdom was the only big player on the European offshore wind energy scene.

Actually, Denmark has a slightly higher installed offshore capacity (635 megawatts versus 607 megawatts). However, the offshore wind energy capacity planned by the United Kingdom is indeed immense and is included in a project dubbed the North Seas Counties’ Offshore Grid, with the London Array the largest in the world.

To this end, energy ministers of 9 European counties have signed an agreement in Brussels to easily share the grid’s energy.

To illuminate the importance of offshore wind energy as a renewable energy source, one might want to put it in context with land-based wind energy. As of the end of 2009, the United Kingdom had a combined installed wind energy capacity of 4,051 megawatts. Some other European Union countries for comparison: France 4,492; Italy 4,850; Spain 19,149; and Germany 25,777.

Meanwhile, Maine’s figure is 175. Let’s go to work!

Wolfgang Wendler

Yarmouth

My grandfather invested heavily in the Seabrook nuclear plant and lost his shirt when environmental fanatics shut the project down. That is why there has been no private investment in nuclear power for 36 years, not because private investors believe that nuclear plants are inherently unsafe or a poor investment.

Au contraire, as the French would say. They power most of their electrical grid with nuclear power and recycle the waste. There have been technological breakthroughs since the last time a nuclear plant was built in the United States.

As for living near one? For 23 years I lived 15 miles from the nuclear plant in Plymouth, Mass. Relatives and friends lived within 5 miles of it (and still do) with nary a lost night’s sleep. I knew people who worked there and others who wanted to because it was good work at a great wage.

But wait, this is Maine. Why would we want such things here?

We are enlightened. We want a pristine wilderness besmirched by only a few destructive wind farms, and some spry geriatrics to provide tourist services, not proven safe green power providing good-paying jobs to young people raising families here.

Who needs them?

Dianne McGill

Naples

I am writing in response to the article, “Vets group pushes for clean energy legislation,” which makes a good point of linking our energy dependence overseas to our soldiers’ safety. Pushing for clean energy would also help returning soldiers find quality jobs when they return from their time in service.

Mainers across the state are counting on Washington to set our country on a path to a cleaner energy and more secure job future.

Naysayers have complained that the recession is the worst time to tackle global warming. On the contrary, transitioning to clean sources of energy will spur new investments and innovation, incubating technologies that we can export and creating jobs here at home.

In June the House took a critical first step by passing the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H. 2454). This clean energy bill will now move through the U.S. Senate.

We urge Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe to support the bill and deliver on the promise that clean energy holds to recharge our economy, put thousands of Maine’s residents back to work and protect future generations from global warming.

Grant Harris

Field Associate, Environment Maine

Portland