Every spring, with Earth Day fast approaching, the media is inundated with either flowery words or dire warnings about protecting the planet on which we live and breathe. Schools run festivals and businesses sling catch phrases. People plant flowers and hail the redemption of recycling. For about a week, we are all so passionate in our endeavors and then, as the days wane, our efforts wane as well. We cannot let the lessons or the call to arms of Earth Day get lost in the hectic nature of our daily lives and mired in the din of social media and greenwashing by the very agents of pollution. Our planet needs our protection and commitment every day.
How did Earth Day start and why has its importance compounded with interest over the years? Fifty-one years ago millions of people took to the streets to protest our country’s pervasive pollution and dirty air and water, and to our horror, even lakes going up in flames. People demanded our government take action. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, and activist Denis Hayes took up the challenge and Earth Day was born. Groups that had been fighting individually against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage dumped into waterways, the proliferation of toxic dumps, the use of pesticides, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife quickly united around their shared common values of curing the earth’s damaged environment. The movement quickly grew to 20 million strong – about 10% of the US population at the time – and Earth Day is now celebrated on April 22nd every year. Other important federal legislation was soon enacted, creating laws and agencies to watch over the earth: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act. A few years later Congress passed the Clean Water Act followed by the Endangered Species Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. These laws have protected millions from disease and death and have protected hundreds of species from extinction.
Fast forward 20 years to 1990 and Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day 1990 helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. On Earth Day 2016, the landmark Paris Agreement was signed by the United States, China, and some 120 other countries. On Earth Day 2020, over 100 million people around the world observed the 50th anniversary.
In 2021 the fight continues. Our planet is still in peril. Our communities are still being challenged. We are facing the very real threat of the Climate Change crisis planetwide, and, here in Orange County, we are still fighting to protect our open spaces and maintain the quality of our water and air at the local level, town by town.
So this Earth Day we encourage you to participate in activities safely in any way you can by taking in the natural beauty of our surroundings and appreciating all that it offers. As part of your Earth Day celebration, please support the local groups working tirelessly all year long to protect our environment. OE has been doing this work for 39 years and we invite you to join our ranks, become a member of Orange Environment and help support the protection of our region.
Earth Day, every day!