Earth Day, fifty years on, looks a lot different from the early Earth Days I remember.
Followers of this blog may recall my claim to be “older than dirt” (as a gardener who composts, I can confidently make that claim). I also am older than Earth Day.
As with many things in the 1970s, however, I came to Earth Day a bit late. Many schools in the US let out classes or didn’t count absences, if students left campus to participate in peaceful demonstrations or “teach-ins” on April 22, 1970 (Seriously! What an awesome civics lesson!). But not my high school in conservative southwest Missouri!
No, we may have glimpsed a story about it on the news. And it may have begun in a bipartisan spirit of cooperation. But it would take a few more years, and my evolution into a “somewhat-hippie” college art major, before I actively participated in any observances of Earth Day.
An expanding movement
The first Earth Day was a mixed success, but the movement persisted, because the problems didn’t go away. Decades of laissez-faire non-regulation of toxins in the environment had turned most of the “developed” world into a toxic mess.
I cringe when I hear about recent changes that make the Environmental Protection Agency less able to hold polluters accountable, or when supposedly-reasonable political leaders discount climate change.
That’s because I remember when the Cuyahoga River could be set on fire by sparks from a passing train. And I remember rarely being able to see the mountains from Denver (while the view of Denver from the mountains was a reddish-looking haze of pollution). I also remember being in Kansas City for only a day, before I could wipe a layer of grime off my car from particulates in the air.
But the USA wasn’t alone. Irresponsible governments and companies were freely destroying the whole world. So by the 1990s, Earth Day had grown into a global event. We all have a stake in our planet’s health!
But 50 years on, there’s still a lot to do
Global climate change is still accelerating. Too many powerful people don’t want to change, don’t want to risk having to pay for cleanups, and don’t seem to think they’ll suffer too many consequences if they drag their feet.
And there’s plenty we can do. Let’s choose greater energy efficiency in our own lifestyles, advocate for climate-wise policies in our local, state, and national government, and stay aware and informed.
Volunteer opportunities abound. So do donation opportunities. If we have more time than money, it’s pretty easy to find and get involved in local clean-ups, community gardening efforts, educational work, or any of the many other initiatives.
There are as many different paths to a better future as there are people–but time is running out. Fifty years on, Earth Day reminds us that the cost of ignoring the problem is too ghastly to accept.
Many thanks to Kresge.org for the “Happy Earth Day 50 Years” featured image, and to YouTube for the 1970-vintage video from CBS. I’m grateful to Wired, for the historic photo of the Cuyahoga River on fire in 1952, and to the EPA for the photo of 1980s-era Denver. And finally, many thanks to Earth911, for the “Happy Earth Day” greeting image.