Jackie Gingrich Cushman

In 1971, I joined my parents and older sister in the second annual Earth Day by picking up litter in Carrollton, Ga.

Dozens of us turned out in jeans and sneakers on that sunny April day, walking along the side of the road, picking up trash, putting it into garbage bags. The most memorable piece of trash we picked up was a toilet seat. Why someone had thrown it out on the side of the road, I have no idea, but when we were done, it was gone. After we filled each bag, we tied a knot in the top and left it to be picked up by a truck.

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At the end of the day, I looked back and saw the roadside, once covered with litter, now clean and green, and felt good. We had accomplished something, we had made a difference, the world was a bit better off.

You might wonder why I was involved in the environment at age 4 going on 5. Did hippies raise me? No, my father -- who favored long sideburns and turtleneck shirts -- was an environmental studies professor at West Georgia College. In addition to picking up trash, he led us canoeing in the Okefenokee Swamp, camping on Cumberland Island and hiking in North Georgia. During the summers, our family would vacation at Cheaha State Park in Alabama, swimming in ice-cold, spring-fed pools, and hiking to the top of the mountain for picnics of ham-and-cheese sandwiches. I was raised with an appreciation and love for the Earth, our home and the provider of our natural resources.

Next week marks the 40th Earth Day and provides an opportunity to re-evaluate the environmental movement.

I was raised a political conservative and remain one today by choice. For me, the term "conservative" evokes a respect for tradition, authority and religious values. As a conservative, I believe conservatives should lead the conservation movement not through government control and regulation, but through an understanding of and appreciation for the beauty and benefits of nature.

In the Jan. 2, 2009, Boston Globe article, "How the City Hurts Your Brain," reporter Jonah Lehrer writes, "Just being in an urban environment ... impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. ... Natural settings, in contrast, don't require the same amount of cognitive effort."

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.