What began in 1970 as a day of celebrating Mother Nature, Earth Day has come a long way since its early roots. At that time, the world was truly a different place. It is quite difficult to imagine now, but then companies could use a variety of harmful tactics when discarding waste. For example, a corporation could spew toxic black smoke into the air and/or dump toxic waste into a nearby stream, and both were completely legal. Both acts could not, and would not, be tried in court.
How was all this remotely possible? This was because there was no EPA, no Clean Air Act, no Clean Water Act. Lamentably, there were no legal or regulatory tools to protect our environment.
As a result, in the spring of 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day as a way to force these types of issues into the national spotlight. Twenty million Americans demonstrated in different U.S. cities. They protested against the harsh treatment of the land, air, and water, and thankfully, their rally cries were answered. That December, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Today, Earth Day has become not only a widely known celebration, but a day of political action and civic participation. It is the day that people across the world sign petitions, march, meet with local officials and complete local community service projects. It is a day on which trees are planted and trash is picked up. However, it is truly so much more. Faith leaders, including Pope Francis, connect Earth Day with protecting God’s greatest creations—humans, biodiversity and the planet that we all live on.
Earth Day 2019’s theme is: “Protect our Species.” This year the focus is on putting the species which are becoming endangered on the national agenda. According to the Earth Day Network’s website, “Human beings have irrevocably upset the balance of nature and, as a result, the world is facing the greatest rate of extinction since we lost the dinosaurs more than 60 million years ago.” While there are countless species that are nearing extinction, there may be hope. “The good news is that the rate of extinctions can still be slowed, and many of our declining, threatened, and endangered species can still recover if we work together,” says the organization. It is our job now to “build a united global movement of consumers, voters, educators, faith leaders, and scientists to demand immediate action.”
The group says that this year, the public can help with this problem through the following steps:
- Educate and raise awareness about the accelerating rate of extinction of millions of species.
- Achieve major policy victories that protect broad groups of species, as well as individual species and their habitats.
- Build and activate a global movement that embraces nature and its values.
- Encourage individual actions, such as adopting a plant-based diet and stopping pesticide and herbicide use.
What are a few ways that one can join the celebration? The greatest contribution one could do would be to join or launch a community service project. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency website, there are a variety of service projects across the nation that need help. For example, there are regional “Healthy Watershed” programs, which focus on prevention of deterioration of local watersheds. There is also the “Tools to Reduce Waste in Schools” program, which focuses on how schools and school districts can reduce the amount of waste generated. A guide to this program, among countless others, is all available on the EPA website.
Since its creation in 1970, Earth Day has become a global phenomenon, with more than 1 billion people in 192 countries now taking part in the widest civic-focused day of action in the world. In the end, Earth Day is not just a day, but a movement.