Call me a curmudgeon. Call me a crank. But I know some of you agree that our current celebrations are neither compassionate nor kind, making them not much to celebrate at all. We are the “no thanks on the fireworks” crowd, the ones who worry about humans who suffer from PTSD — particularly when we know the trauma was sometimes created while in service to this county — and we prefer not to introduce trauma to wildlife and pets.
From my observations, this group transcends political groups. It’s not anti-country or anti-celebration. It’s just that we’d prefer a quieter and less toxic Fourth, one that is a bit more mindful. One that embraces new technologies and doesn’t rely on the “but that’s how we’ve always done things” approach.
First, the science on problems with fireworks is pretty clear, and might be a bit more damning than most people realize.
The chemicals that propel fireworks up in the air do not just dissipate, as the colorful sparks do, but cause particle pollution filled with nasty toxic elements and metals that come back down to earth. Perchlorate, for example, is a chemical compound that is particularly dangerous when it lands in waterways, contaminating fish for long periods. But the air is immediately polluted too — right after displays and for days following.
A study published by the International Journal of Environmental and Public Health documents just how bad this exposure to air pollution is for some time after holiday events, and a National Geographic article points out that the particulates are similar to that of a large wildfire. And that’s not the end of the pollution: There is also microplastic contamination, casings, and metals left behind, which animals ingest — or feed their young.
Poisoning our air, waterways, and wildlife isn’t a way to celebrate.
And the noise. The noise, the noise, the noise. Not only from the officially-sanctioned city displays, but from the endless pop-bottle rockets and smaller fireworks set off in backyards and parking lots across the nation. I have to admit that I grew up shooting these off myself — a few of my six brothers have scars, actually, having found it amusing to aim them at one another. Was it fun? Yes. Have I changed course? Yes.
Plenty of humans, myself included, find noise pollution anxiety-producing, perhaps because we live in a world with more and more noise, and our nervous systems can only take so much. But also, I’d like to think that maturity brings empathy for other creatures.
Animals are even more sensitive to high frequency noise than we are, and it doesn’t take an expert to know that our celebrations mess with their lives big time. Studies have shown that fireworks disrupt migration patterns, and wild birds frightened by the noise of fireworks will fly higher and for longer, which exposes them to the sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide in those fireworks. There have even been documented incidents of large dead bird populations following large displays.
And pets. What about those innocents? Anyone with a dog knows how traumatizing these noises are for them as we watch them hide under beds, shivering, or try to claw their way out of enclosures. The Humane Society sees an uptick in lost animals during the holiday celebrations; its webpage includes a good discussion of the serious negative impact fireworks have on pets. I have no doubt that veterinarians are busy at this very moment prescribing anti-anxiety meds for dogs and other creatures.
And wildfires. Anyone out West knows that anything we can do to reduce the risk of that terrible situation is worth considering. We can remember well the misery of 2020 — need I say more?
Here’s the thing: There are awesome alternatives. Laser spectacles, for one, which have been adopted by some cities, including Salt Lake City, where stewardship and fire prevention are priorities. Amen! There are other types of light displays, silent fireworks, and heck, what’s wrong with just camping with the family and embracing silence and stars?
I have to admit: I am frequently heartbroken by our country’s priorities. And this is especially true at the holidays, which have been commodified to the extreme. We prefer Mardi Gras beads to unplasticized oceans. We’re OK with junky plastic Easter eggs in our dumps rather than celebrating the holiness of our planet. We prefer being consumers during the Christmas season rather than considering how we might contribute to peace on Earth. Thanksgiving floats use up an enormous amount of plastic and helium and, at least in my case, do nothing to promote family unity.
So, yeah, call me a crank. All holidays give me the blues — except the best one, April Fool’s Day, when I get to play some good-humored jokes on some friends. But the one I dislike the most is the Fourth. The ways we choose to celebrate, knowing full well that we are traumatizing people, animals, and our soil and water, does not make me want to celebrate.
I’ll step off my little soapbox now and sincerely wish you a happy Fourth. May we keep working on our freedoms, including the freedom to celebrate responsibly. City officials continue to sanction and fund these displays, assuming that’s what we the people want. My suggestion? Let’s tell them we don’t.
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