Earth Day. So What?

Photo: mnem

People ask me every year, “What are you doing for Earth Day?”

I usually reply, “Every day is earth day.” How cliché.

Earth Day is meant to raise awareness. But how can we not already be aware of earth? It is, after all, our home. The only planet of its kind, as far as we know. The lush garden that supports life—clean air and water, food, LOL cat videos—until we destroy it.

There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.  ~Marshall McLuhan, 1964

Has Earth Day simply become another Hallmark holiday? One in which, like Mother’s Day, you feel like all you need to do is send flowers—or in this case, pick up a few bags of trash along the road—and call it a day? Announcing it is not going to convert the humans who don’t give a crap. Or don’t believe their consumption habits will make a difference. Sorry if I sound cynical.

Why can’t we all just get along and agree that every single day of our lives should be lived as sustainably as possible?

That recycling is nice, but it’s not enough. That we have to take a daily stand by voting with our dollars (i.e., supporting local farmers and local, sustainable businesses) and supporting sustainable policy (sign a petition, line up in protest, get out and vote) and planting a rain garden. And not giving up just because our neighbor is loading their lawn with nitrogen and spraying their trees with pesticides. Leading by example.

When I think about Earth Day, I think about how I want my son to live a life free of toxins, able to breathe the air without worry and drink water freely from the tap. I want him to have easy access to safe food without worrying about whether he can afford it. For that matter, I’d like these things for myself and all human beings. It’s not too much to ask.

Please take a minute to watch this video from the Environmental Protection Agency. Hopefully it will inspire you. Maybe it will even re-energize your love of our planet and dedication to living sustainably.

Simple Earth Day Ideas.

History of Earth Day.

The idea came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media; persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair; and recruited Denis Hayes as national coordinator. Hayes built a national staff of 85 to promote events across the land.

As a result, on the 22nd of April, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.

Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. “It was a gamble,” Gaylord recalled, “but it worked.”

As 1990 approached, a group of environmental leaders asked Denis Hayes to organize another big campaign. This time, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1995) — the highest honor given to civilians in the United States — for his role as Earth Day founder.

As the millennium approached, Hayes agreed to spearhead another campaign, this time focused on global warming and a push for clean energy. With 5,000 environmental groups in a record 184 countries reaching out to hundreds of millions of people, Earth Day 2000 combined the big-picture feistiness of the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990. It used the Internet to organize activists, but also featured a talking drum chain that traveled from village to village in Gabon, Africa, and hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Earth Day 2000 sent world leaders the loud and clear message that citizens around the world wanted quick and decisive action on clean energy.

Much like 1970, Earth Day 2010 came at a time of great challenge for the environmental community. Climate change deniers, well-funded oil lobbyists, reticent politicians, a disinterested public, and a divided environmental community all contributed to a strong narrative that overshadowed the cause of progress and change. In spite of the challenge, for its 40th anniversary, Earth Day Network reestablished Earth Day as a powerful focal point around which people could demonstrate their commitment. Earth Day Network brought 225,000 people to the National Mall for a Climate Rally, amassed 40 million environmental service actions toward its 2012 goal of A Billion Acts of Green®, launched an international, 1-million tree planting initiative with Avatar director James Cameron and tripled its online base to over 900,000 community members.

The fight for a clean environment continues in a climate of increasing urgency, as the ravages of climate change become more manifest every day. We invite you to be a part of Earth Day and help write many more victories and successes into our history. Discover energy you didn’t even know you had. Feel it rumble through the grassroots under your feet and the technology at your fingertips. Channel it into building a clean, healthy, diverse world for generations to come.

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