By Kelsey Hansen, Group Tours and Education Coordinator
It is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Its first celebration was in 1970, founded by Gaylord Nelson; he was inspired by the environmental disasters and injustice to lead a revolution that would hopefully ensure clean air, clean water, green energy, and innovative thinking that would lead to ecological, social, and economical change. After witnessing the Santa Barbara Oil Spill in 1969, he used the passion of the anti-war movement to focus the public's attention on environmental protection and to force it into the nation's political agenda. With the help of Republican Congressman, Pete Mccloskey, who supported conservation efforts, they arranged for events to be held throughout the country on April 22nd.
On that day, 20 million Americans participated in demonstrations for a clean and healthy environment, as well as a sustainable future. Individual organizations that had been campaigning against oil spills, dirty energy, raw sewage, toxic waste sites, pesticides (an issue brought forth by Rachel Carson’s, Silent Spring), inefficient transportation methods, and the loss and extinction of wilderness and wildlife, came together to attain a huge political movement.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency was created that same year, as well as the passage of the Clean Air Act. Not long after, Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, and in 1973 passed the Endangered Species Act. Needless to say, we have all benefited from these Acts; they have provided us with clean air and water, the protection of waterways, and have ensured the protection and survival of species all over the world.
Since then, Earth Day has gone global. In 1990, over 200 million people in 141 countries participated in Earth Day, and it has grown and persevered ever since. The Day has inspired and cultivated thousands of environmental service projects, protected species across the globe, and is observed by more than a billion people. It is a day to inspire change in human behavior and to push local, national, and global policy change to ensure a cleaner and sustainable Earth.
This year, Earth Day is all about optimism. The public desire for innovative green technology, a start to the reversal of climate change, preventing most extinctions, and an overall cultural shift in how we manage our resources is still at the heart of Earth Day, but instead of a sense of loss, we are focusing on hope. Even though we have lost countless species, many endangered and threatened species benefit greatly from conservation efforts, anti-poaching laws, and captive breeding programs. Sustainable development goals are being achieved and efforts are being carried out to improve the lives of people around the world. Whether those goals include more access to clean sanitation and water, better education for women and young girls, or better access to cleaner energy, there are still efforts being made by the government, private, and non-governmental organizations to make the world a better place.
Everyone can also do their part at home to create long-lasting impacts… whether they are small, everyday lifestyle changes or getting involved with a local environmental agency, everyone can participate in Earth Optimism. Changes can be made in the home by minimizing food waste, at the store by using reusable bags, in your neighborhood by cleaning a local waterway or becoming an informed citizen by attending a few town hall meetings, it will all make a difference. And after you have participated in something on Earth Day, or throughout the year, make sure you share it with the hashtag Earth Optimism. #EarthOptimism
Happy Earth Day!