Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary is April 22. Many activities were planned, with a large celebration on April 25 -- now canceled due to stay-at-home directives.
One aspect of this pandemic which ties in with Earth Day's emphasis on environmental responsibility is the interconnectedness of our world. Who would have imagined a microscopic organism would bring us to our knees, traveling worldwide with devastating effects on our health and economy?
Interconnectedness is also the message of Earth Day. While insults to the Earth's water, air, plants and animals may not seem as immediate as COVID-19, the effects will be just as devastating.
The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970. Witnessing a massive oil spill in California, Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin recognized the need for environmental protection.
Water and air pollution were foremost in the news, as was halting offshore drilling, saving whales and dangers of lead in paint and gasoline. Sen. Nelson recruited Dennis Hayes to be the national coordinator for the nationwide event and that first year 20 million Americans (10% of the population) headed to the streets, parks, and public spaces to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment.
As a result, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created, followed by the Clean Air Act (1970), Clean Water Act (1972), and Endangered Species Act (1973). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was formed, DDT banned, lead removed from gasoline, and the Toxic Substances Control and Marine Mammal Protection Acts were passed, all accomplished because of Earth Day activities. The people’s voices were heard!
Earth Day has been celebrated each year since. Each decade brings in more people, more countries, and more concerns. In 1990, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries.
This was a huge boost to recognizing the need for recycling worldwide and paved the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. In 2000, hundreds of millions of people in over 180 countries took part in Earth Day festivities, bringing focus to global warming and clean energy.
After 50 years of action, it would be nice to sit back and simply enjoy and appreciate the work done so far. Sadly, we still have a fight ahead of us. The last few years has brought an onslaught of policies that undermine environmental regulations, such as the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts.
Climate change and plastic pollution are of utmost concern to most citizens, but this falls on deaf ears of policy makers. Even as we face this alarming pandemic, environmental regulations are being loosened, further increasing air and water pollution in our country. Earth Day is recognized once a year, but it must become part of our everyday lives.
And while we cannot take part in group activities this April to celebrate our Earth, there are things we can do. Politically, we can contact our elected officials (local, state, national) to tell them that the health of our environment is important, urging them to maintain adequate regulations for clean water and air. Remind them that our native plants and animals also need our help and the Endangered Species Act should remain intact.
As individuals, we can get out, especially on Earth Day, to enjoy and appreciate our natural environment. Perhaps you will be inclined to pick up litter along the road, look at flowers blooming at a nearby park or even in your neighborhood, listen to the birds.
Let's turn our heightened awareness about what connects us, so clear during this COVID-19 pandemic, to a renewed commitment to preserve our Earth in all its wonders on this 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
Laura Dufford (email@example.com) is a member of the Environmental Study Group which can be found on Facebook @esgroup32