“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.”

—Jane Goodall

This week marked the 51st Earth Day. It’s a time when we focus on the environmental issues that the world faces.

Some are short-sighted and criticize it as feel-good tree-hugging nonsense. They see little practical benefit in investing in efforts to protect our planet.

And I’m not here to tell you that you should panic because the sky is falling. The tangible consequences of failing to act now will lead to increased heat, more intense storms, drought, insect outbreaks, wildfires, declining water supplies, flooding and erosion of coastal areas.

I’m talking about impacts here and now affecting our economy.

We are blessed to live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, yet we allow our roadsides to be blighted with trash.

At least one company that wanted to bring jobs to DeKalb County saw that litter cluttering our streets and decided to go in a different direction. They lacked the insight I’ve had witnessing how hard people here work and simply interpreted the litter they saw as being indicative of laziness and a lack of pride that would ultimately manifest as an unreliable labor force.

We should take greater pride in our beautiful county. So many places would love to claim the scenic riches that we take for granted. Tourism becomes more of a draw for the local economy every day, but that experience of someone forming a first impression of us may be blighted by the presence of discarded fast food cups and sandwich wrappings.

It’s humiliating whenever I show a friend around our beautiful attractions and they mention all of the garbage. It’s hard to miss in some places.

I don’t believe that most people go around tossing their waste from car windows. Surely people are not that disgusting.

More likely, items are tossed in the back of a pickup truck without a whole lot of thought given to how things are probably going to fly out once they pick up speed.

Litter is a big enough problem that the Fort Payne City Council addressed it at a recent meeting, suggesting that it might be time to enforce some laws that curtail bad actors.

Mayor Brian Baine encouraged citizens to pull their waste containers back from the road once pickup service has made the rotation down their street.

We also need to bag the various loose articles of garbage rather than just tossing them all in that big garbage can because the same thing can happen as that cup in the back of the pickup truck, lifting junk into the air and gently depositing it onto the roadside to create an eyesore.

I know yard work isn’t much fun either, but we also need to keep up our properties now that the grass needs trimmed because letting it go creates an environment where pests like rats and snakes feel comfy.

Our homes and businesses contribute to that first impression visitors get of DeKalb County when they drive through it. We can’t, and shouldn’t, rely solely on the government to keep things looking nice.

I guess I am asking you to care. I shouldn’t have to, but that’s the world we have now. I want everyone to step up efforts and show some pride in our county’s appearance. We can make this place look incredible if we all come together and do our individual efforts. I want people to drive through Fort Payne and say, “I want to move HERE!” I want them to envy us -- not question whether we care.

— Steven Stiefel is the publisher of the Times-Journal. His column appears in Saturday editions. Email: steven.stiefel@times-journal.com.

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