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Earth Day 2018

21st April 2018

Earth Day 2018

…how much do we care for Mother Earth?


April 22, 2018


“48th anniversary of Earth Day.

Reflections on this movement.”

Earth Day

NOTE: I’ve written about Earth Day with minor variations for several years now so if my theme is already familiar to you, feel free to skip this year’s article.

With a few exceptions, I’ve tried to remember April 22nd each year since the first Earth Day in 1970. Back then I was a student majoring in resource economics so the environment was a central part of my studies.

Senator Gaylord Nelson was quite instrumental in organizing Earth Day 1970. His intent was to focus attention on the environment, to assess the effect that our population is placing on our limited natural resources, and to implement the urgent actions to keep the earth sustainable for generations to come. Since 1970 a generation or two has passed. Yet the Nelson’s urgency has not translated into the wide and responsive action that many of his disciples would have hoped.

Could it be that Nelson’s intent is now gaining traction? Two years ago, the Paris Agreement was signed. Also known as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change its goal is to combat climate change. Effective since November 2016 with 195 UN member countries participating, actions are aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. With President Trump signaling that the US will pull out of the agreement in 2020, we’ll have to see if the Paris Agreement can remain effective.

Follow me for a few minutes as my mind becomes unstuck in time.

I borrowed the phrase “unstuck in time” from the late Kurt Vonnegut. He died in 2007 but I recall meeting him in the late 1960’s. He was invited to be “writer in residence” while I was studying at the University of Michigan (U of M) in Ann Arbor. As a wildly popular author, he was sure to have a large, welcoming audience at U of M.

He sometimes visited “The Brown Jug Restaurant” for coffee and to smoke cigarettes. As an aside, he claimed that smoking was the slowest form of suicide. My wife Kris, also a student, waitressed here and on occasion would serve him. Due to her hearing difficulty she admitted that she wasn’t a very good waitress and frustrated Vonnegut with her (lack of) service. More to the point, his stay on campus as writer in residence ended prematurely when he abruptly left saying something like: “I’m leaving Ann Arbor since I have nothing more to teach you about writing.” So it goes.

Kurt Vonnegut photo courtesy of
Colleen Taber

the author and his dog living “60’s back to nature

Fifth Dimension

The late 60’s was a very vibrant and exciting, yet conflicted era. From my high school yearbook a Charles Dickens quote describes the period: “it was the best of times and it was the worst of times….we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way”. This was the period of Viet Nam and Kent State, living off the earth and making peace, hippies and long hair. We were contemporaries of heavy metal, Motown, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, James Taylor and Woodstock music. With this as a backdrop, we happen upon the Earth Day 1970 teach-in at the U of M.

After Vonnegut’s departure, the folk song artist Gordon Lightfoot visited Ann Arbor. Gord had been drawing large audiences around the US, Canada and Europe. Here he performed his Canadian Railroad Trilogy (click for lyrics) for more than 12,000 screaming students. The song is a poetic ballad describing the building of the railroads across Canada and the difficult tradeoffs between developing the economy and keeping the land pristine for the future – an apt way to point to the environmental conflict in musical terms.

Lightfoot’s concert was part of the first Earth Day teach-in, a gathering of some 50,000 in Ann Arbor to discuss, educate and find solutions to environmental problems created by the earth’s inhabitants. From all of the excitement and the energy which went into the production of the first Earth Day teach-ins, many of us believed that we were on the verge of saving the environment.

I was planning a career revolving around conservation, ecology and recycling. I studied writings from the likes of educators and humanists Kenneth Boulding, Buckminster Fuller and E.F. Schumacher and took courses such as forestry, resource management and cost-benefit analysis.

My great enthusiasm for all things environmental waned not long after graduating with a degree in Natural Resource Economics. It was fully a year later that I was still trying to find a job in this nascent field. Instead, I ended up in the computer and publishing business. So it goes.

I tend to shy away from talking politics so I won’t comment on how well or how poorly us earthlings have done to improve the environment these past 48 years. However, like others, I’ve seen a very large and urgent movement in recent years to resurrect many of the same or similar ideas from these earlier decades that call for a change in our lifestyles.

Of course there have been numerous events that have flashed attention on Earth Day. How about a song with a conservation theme: Conviction of the Heart (click for lyrics) was performed by writer/singer Kenny Loggins at Earth Day 1995 in Washington, DC.

A few years back we took our young grandkids to see The Lorax, a movie based on a Dr Seuss’ book. It describes a place where the trees have been clear cut so there are no trees left. Everyone depends on manufactured air to provide oxygen for their survival. Through battle with “industry”, the hero finally succeeds in planting a single tree. This act restarts the path to regenerating oxygen naturally. While the story is a little far fetched, it presents the oxygen depletion issue to a young generation.

We later took them to see another movie – The Croods which depicts the struggle of a family of cave people to survive in a deteriorating world. They survive through human ingenuity with inventions such as fire, shoes and wheels. I hope this isn’t the only lesson for our next generation – that technology alone is going to save our environment. Yes, we are quite ingenious. But a lot of us have reservations that technology by itself will solve our planet’s woes.

I recently came across an article that describes the fossil fuels versus renewables controversy. The discussion is not only about the environment but also about jobs associated with the various energy industries. The coal industry employees about 50,000 and the more inclusive fossil fuel industry – coal, oil and natural gas – employees 187,000. Comparing this to number of employees working in the wind power 110,000 and solar power 374,000 it’s pretty clear that the energy industry is headed towards more renewables.

Photography and the Environment

Stay Focused is a website revolving around photography. So what does all of this rambling have to do photography? Well, to continue in the same vein, I thought it might be interesting to look at photography then and now to compare their individual environmental impacts.

At first, I thought this was going to be a “no brainer” – that digital photography yields huge environmental savings compared to conventional photography. But as I began to dig deeper, I see that there are two sides to this argument.

Conventional Photography

Having worked in several commercial photo labs long before the advent of digital, I’m familiar with the processes that are used in conventional (film-based) photography.

Most conventional cameras use a cartridge or canister of film for taking 12, 20 or 36 photographs. Each “roll” of film is individually packaged for sale in hundreds of thousands of retail locations. Besides the resources needed to manufacture the film, a considerable amount more are used to market and distribute the products.

Film derives its light sensitivity from a chemical mixture of silver halide that’s coated onto its surface. After being exposed to light by the camera, the film is first “developed” – the silver halide image is converted into a metallic silver and then “fixed” – the unused silver halide is dissolved. This makes the negative image permanent. Color film requires additional chemicals to form the dyes used to reproduce the various colors. And still other chemicals are used to enhance the drying of the photographic materials. In addition to these chemicals, a large amount of water is used to rinse and clean the chemicals from the surface of the film.

Conventional photographic prints are processed similarly using a silver halide sensitive paper and chemicals to develop and fix and wash the positive images. Most commercial photo labs make prints from each exposure on a roll of film.>

The environmental impact of conventional photography is significant. A large amount materials is consumed to make film and photographic paper. A large amount of nasty and toxic chemicals are used to process both the film and prints. And an awfully large amount of fresh water is used in the process as well.

Digital Photography

At first glance, the coming of age of digital photography appears to have a beneficial impact on the environmental.

With digital, no longer is there a need for roll after roll of film. Instead a single chip (SD-card or CF-card) can capture hundreds, maybe thousands of images.

Now, these digital images no longer require chemical development. Rather, the images are immediately available to review while still in the camera. For permanence, the images can be copied to your computer hard drive for safekeeping, further enhancement and presentation.

Unlike conventional processing where each exposure is mindlessly printed by the photo lab, you can be more selective. Instead you can choose to print only the best of the best images. And it’s your choice to print them using a conventional photo process at your favorite photo lab or print them at home on your color ink-jet printer.

Regardless of which camera you’ve purchased, digital photography seems like a winner from an environmental standpoint.

The Rest of the Story

As with many things in life, digital photography has a few “gotcha’s” that cloud its environmental friendly moniker.

The upside is that digital provides big savings in resources by eliminating film, packaging, paper and chemical processing. However, digital shifts the resource burden to the manufacturing and maintaining of the personal computer. Yes, there are some who make do without a personal computer. These picturetakers bring their digital film to a photo lab to make their selected prints. But most picturetakers collect, organize, retouch, process and present their photographs using a personal computer.

While it’s dated, a United Nation report tells us that “the average 24 kg desktop computer with monitor requires at least 10 times its weight in fossil fuels and chemicals to manufacture, much more materials intensive than an automobile or refrigerator, which only require 1-2 times their weight in fossil fuels. Researchers found that manufacturing one desktop computer and 17-inch CRT monitor uses at least 240 kg of fossil fuels, 22 kg of chemicals and 1,500 kg of water – a total of 1.8 tonnes of materials.”

Of course a personal computer is used for other tasks as well, so it’s not fair to put the full blame for digital photography’s negative impact on the environment.

And to power all of these cameras, computers and accessories the need for electricity either from the wall outlet or batteries is climbing. Does this contribute to our CO2 footprint?

Not surprisingly, manufacturers are working feverishly to add new and amazing whiz-bang features to their cameras. But now instead of buying a conventional camera every ten years or so, the buying cycle for digital cameras is a lot more frequent. Read: more resources consumed.

Wrapping it Up

We can credit the overwhelming adoption of digital cameras for saving the environment from millions of rolls of film and the required chemicals to develop the the film and prints. In addition to the great quality of digital technology, we benefit from a huge reduction of harmful photographic chemicals.

Unfortunately, from an environmental standpoint, digital photography is a mixed bag when considering the pervasive number of new cameras and extensive use of the personal computer.

In his novel Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut might comment on this no-win situation with the phrase so it goes.

A while back, I wrote another article that might be of interest if you’re following the status of our environment.

After all of these years as an avid photographer I’m still a proponent of carefully using our precious natural resources. Aside from photographing family, my favorite pastime is nature and landscape photography. Below you can see some of the ways that I commune with nature.

These photos were taken in many of our National Parks, Monuments and parklands. As you read this, I’m off to other outdoor places to experience more of our earth.



To the best of my ability I continue to practice “leave no trace photography” – disturb neither our wildlife nor its surroundings. Photography, whether conventional or digital, is a gift that lets me enjoy the wonders of our amazing world visually. I think many others agree.

Again I say Happy Earth Day!




More Information
Here’s a few articles that touch on the conventional vs digital photography debate.

For those of you who are interested in the movement, here is a link to one of the main Earth Day sites.

History of Earth Day


Written by Arnie Lee, former flower child and founder of Stay Focused.

Please leave your comments below or address your thoughts about this article, to Arnie via email






Canadian Railroad Trilogy

By Gordon Lightfoot

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run

When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun

Long before the white man and long before the wheel

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

But time has no beginnings and history has no bounds

As to this verdant country they came from all around

They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall

And they built the mines the mills and the factories for the good of us all

And when the young man’s fancy was turning to the spring

The railroad men grew restless for to hear the hammers ring

Their minds were overflowing with the visions of their day

And many a fortune lost and won and many a debt to pay

For they looked in the future and what did they see

They saw an iron road running from sea to the sea

Bringing the goods to a young growing land

All up through the seaports and into their hands

Look away said they across this mighty land

From the eastern shore to the western strand

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails

We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails

Open your heart let the life blood flow

Gotta get on our way cause were moving too slow

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails

We’re gonna lay down the tracks and tear up the trails

Open your heart let the life blood flow

Gotta get on our way cause were moving too slow

Get on our way cause were moving too slow

Behind the blue Rockies the sun is declining

The stars, they come stealing at the close of the day

Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping

Beyond the dark oceans in a place far away

We are the navvies who work upon the railway

Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun

Living on stew and drinking bad whiskey

Bending our old backs til the long days are done

We are the navvies who work upon the railway

Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun

Laying down track and building the bridges

Bending our old backs til the railroad is done

So over the mountains and over the plains

Into the muskeg and into the rain

Up the St. Lawrence all the way to Gaspe

Swinging our hammers and drawing our pay

Driving them in and tying them down

Away to the bunkhouse and into the town

A dollar a day and a place for my head

A drink to the living and a toast to the dead

Oh the song of the future has been sung

All the battles have been won

Oer the mountain tops we stand

All the world at our command

We have opened up the soil

With our teardrops and our toil

For there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run

When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun

Long before the white man and long before the wheel

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

And many are the dead men too silent to be real



Conviction Of The Heart

By Kenny Loggins

Where are the dreams that we once had?

This is the time to bring them back.

What were the promises caught on the tips of our tongues?

Do we forget or forgive?

There’s a whole other life waiting to live when

One day we’re brave enough

To talk with Conviction of the Heart.

And down your streets I’ve walked alone,

As if my feet were not my own

Such is the path I chose, doors I have opened and closed

I’m tired of living this life,

Fooling myself, believing we’re right

I’ve never given love

With any Conviction of the Heart

One with the earth, with the sky

One with everything in life

I believe we’ll survive

If we only try

How long must we all wait to change

This world bound in chains that we live in

To know what it is to forgive

And be forgiven?

Too many years of taking now.

Isn’t it time to stop somehow?

Air that’s too angry to breathe, water our children can’t drink

You’ve heard it hundreds of times

You say you’re aware, believe and you care,

But do you care enough

To talk with Conviction of the Heart?

NOTE: This is a reprint and was originally written in 2005.
I remember very clearly when Dad would pull out his large twin lens reflex camera, usually around a holiday, birthday or family event. He would lower his head and look into the lens hood while his hand would reach down to grasp the knurled knob on the camera’s side. I would see the bellows move back and forth as he zeroed in on his focus. Then he’d snap and the shot would be done. We’d wait weeks, sometimes months, to see the results. After all, a full roll of film had room for 12 negatives!
When the film was finally developed, we were thrilled to see the results. Here are two photos, one from the 40’s and another from the 50s, but they both share the same “feel” – the subjects are dressed up for a special occasion, some of them are posed comfortably and others more stiffly, but always in full black and white.

Aunt Emma, Aunt Millie and Mom circa 1940

I took this family picture as a youth circa 1957
In the 50’s, color photos were reserved only for special occasions – owing to the higher expense. While Dad sometimes shot color, the cost of the film and print processing was too extravagant for normal use. But for those special times when he did use color, he would send the exposed film to one of the discount processing services to save money. The downside: developing by mail took an additional week to complete.
I cut my teeth on Dad’s older twin lens reflex (TLR) and a Polaroid Swinger. Using the twin lens reflex was an exercise in patience. With only twelve exposures to a roll of 120 film, you made sure that you had a good shot before you released the shutter. With the Swinger, it was a blast to see instant photography. With today’s digital we’ve come full circle; we have another form of instant photography again.
As a youngster with sparse earnings, I made do with Dad’s second TLR and the Swinger that served as my equipment. I came into luck when Uncle Tom, who was in the Air Force at the time, agreed to buy a camera for me at a huge discount on the Air Force Base PX. This became a lesson in patience: I’d wait a whole year until he returned from service overseas to get my hands on a state of the art Canonflex RM SLR camera.
In the mean time, I learned to develop film and make my own prints. A small corner in the basement became my darkroom. I covered the windows to keep out the light, fashioned a processing area from discarded planks of wood and used Mom’s washroom sink to provide water for the chemicals. I spent many nights mixing developer, stop bath and fixer; processing film and making black and white prints. I started with a basic Testrite enlarger and later graduated to a fancy Durst 606 enlarger with a built-in color filter drawer. I was so immersed into this hobby that soon I learned to make my own color prints. It would take take three hours of preparation to make the first color “test” print and perhaps six hours to get an acceptable “final” color print. I can hardly believe that I had so much patience back then.
To further my interest, something wonderful happened. Mom arranged for me to get a part time job with John Margotta, her past schoolmate who was now a professional photographer. For three years, after school I would head to John’s studio to learn the photography business. In the studio I was his assistant. I would hold lights and set up equipment for weddings, bar mitzvahs, anniversaries, birthdays, modeling shoots, funerals (yes, funerals) and more. I learned about lighting techniques, portrait techniques, posing techniques, action techniques, view camera technqiues and wedding cake cutting techniques too. And of course John taught me many darkroom techniques. I used most of my earnings to purchase more equipment.
My photographic education continued. During high school I proudly served on the yearbook staff as one of the three student photographers with access to sporting and entertainment events. In the following examples, you’ll see that we continued taking black and white photos since the cost of color was prohibitive at the time.

The friendly cheerleading squad of
New Rochelle High School circa 1967

Motown’s Four Tops performing
at New Rochelle High School circa 1966
During my college years, I completed my formal photo training by working at two different high end processing labs servicing the Madison Ave advertising agencies. In the 60’s, a process called “dye transfer” was used to make photographic reproductions for the high quality magazines like Vogue and Harper. Here is where I learned processing from the ground up: making color separations from original transparencies for printing using cyan, magenta and yellow dyes. Despite commuting between my home in New Rochelle and the photo labs in New York City and the long working hours, I thoroughly enjoyed the job as I continued to learn different aspects of photography.
At college I taught at the photography club and introduced my girlfriend to darkroom techniques. By the way, Kris is now my wife and hates the darkroom. I was a staff photographer for several university organizations and earned extra cash by photographing fraternity and sorority events.
Following college, Kris and I were married and shortly thereafter, photography took a backseat to raising a family, putting bread on the table and becoming involved in the software industry. Although I took and accumulated thousands of photos during this period, the bulk of these were of family faces and of the scenic vacation variety.
Skip forward 30 years to the mid-1990s. My company Abacus, was involved with flight simulation software and I’m taking more and more aviation related photos. I now find myself dabbling in the new world of digital photography. The stars are finally aligned and I’m ready to marry two of my long time interests: photography and aviation. With digital, the equipment and processing techniques are radically different from conventional film photography.
Several years ago, I received a surprise email from John Margotta, my photography mentor from the 1960s. I was happy to hear that at an age of 80+, he’s still immersed in photography. He’s produced some artistic renditions of still life using his “Photoshop-equipped darkroom”. His approach to photography is a lesson that hi-tech isn’t reserved only for the young.
Lucikly, I’m finding that most of the basics that I started learning 50+ years ago are still relevant. After all of these years, I remain very excited and passionate about my love of photography.

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article about a friendly face from the past. We knew her as Aunt Rita – an artist, a wife, a mother, a world traveler, an adventurer and a lovely woman.

Aunt Rita and her family lived on a Chinese junk, The Amoy which was moored in the harbor of New Rochelle (NY), a few blocks from where we lived.

Since my article appeared, I’ve had several email exchanges with Aunt Rita’s family which in turn made me go hunting for this classic painting that she gifted to my mother years ago.

I remember her painting vividly since it decorated our childhood home for many years. And when my folks moved to their new home, the painting was part of their spare bedroom.

Aunt Rita, Mom, my sisters and me

These photos are a pleasant way to enjoy the people and events from days gone by. Photos such as these should be a constant reminder to share your memories with others. Yes, photos matter.
Written by Arnie Lee


In 1978, we founded our parent company Abacus as a publisher of books and software. So for 35 years I’ve been involved with everything that accompanies the task of books – acquisition, contracts, manuscripts, editing, rewriting, printing, marketing, reviews, etc. The books that we publish are technical books: computing, electronics, aviation. While this gives me some expertise evaluating and reviewing books of this genre, I admittedly lack experience evaluating and reviewing history books.

Consequently, the mini-review that I’m about to give here is not based on my in depth knowledge of the subject matter. Rather it’s based only on my personal interest in this topic. Professionally speaking I’m not qualified to comment on history – but can you cut me some slack when I describe the book’s attractive layout and appearance, riveting content, easy reading, and many fine photographs and illustrations?

Discovering Black America is an in depth look at the forced settlement, migration, education, struggle, emergence and contribution of the Americans of African descent.

I was surprised to learn that as early as 1500’s many of the early explorers to America were accompanied by black sailors. I read how the slave trade was fueled by the demand of southern farmers to establish and maintain a plantation economy. I learned how our archrival, the British, schemed to free tens of thousands of slaves during the Revolutionary War.


Why Photos Matter

30th August 2010

I have a lot of fond memories from my growing up years in suburban New York. Photographs have helped me recall many of these memories.

About four months ago, I was preparing for our bi-annual family reunion. My project was to design an album of family members to be auctioned as part of the reunion fundraisers. I looked through hundreds of Mom’s “shoebox photos” from the 1940’s and 1950’s and found forty or so pictures for the album. I carefully scanned each photo, chose the layout for each album page through an online service, completed and ordered the album online and received the finished photo book by mail in plenty of time for the reunion.

This by itself is reason enough to demonstrate why photos matter, but this article goes a step further.

While looking through Mom’s photos, I found one that I put aside. A few weeks later when I had some free time, I again retrieved the photo.

Here was a picture of Mom, my sisters and myself and a familiar face from the 1950’s.


We knew this lovely woman on the left as “Aunt Rita”.

Looking closely, you’ll notice that we are standing on a boat. To be precise, we are standing on “The Amoy”, a Chinese junk that she and her husband Alfred owned and lived on. They raised three sons on the Amoy.

The Nilson’s moored their boat a few blocks from our house. Somehow, Aunt Rita had befriended my mother and we would frequently visit the Nilsons on their junk.

The photo also reminds me of the painting gifted by Mrs. Nilson. The still-life painting graced our living room wall for so many years with her signature neatly tucked at the bottom, right-hand corner of her artwork.

I searched the Internet by googling “The Amoy”. One entry linked me to a postcard of the same Chinese junk that brought back even more memories.

I bought the postcard which helped me recall the exact coloring of the junk and also reminded me of the boat’s dark teakwood finish and many “interesting” rooms below deck.

I am now trying to track down one or more of the Nilson’s three sons (success, please see Comments below).

Postcard caption: Chinese junk moored at Echo Bay (New Rochelle, N.Y.). As an aside: the Nilsons later moved their boat from Echo Bay to the Bronx along the Hutchinson River Parkway near the defunct Freedomland.

Photos matter to be because they help me reach back to memorable times of the past. They’re a constant reminder to me to take lots of pictures and show them to the world!

Written by Arnie Lee


In just a few days, our family will be having our bi-annual reunion. Mom comes from a large, extended family and we’re planning to have about 100 “Wong” relatives from various places across the USA gather again for a few days, this time in Grand Rapids.

One tradition of our reunions is the family auction. Everyone brings an item to be auctioned and the proceeds from the auction help to finance future reunions.

As it turns out, I’m again late getting my item ready for the auction. I need some help so I make a few calls to Mom and Aunt Jean. They frantically comb through their basements looking for old photographs. After meeting for lunch they hand me a few shoeboxes filled to the brim with photos.