by Carolyn Ramsden, Environmental Scientist, Eco Advisors, LLC
This year marks the 46th year of Earth Day which is held in an effort to develop innovations and overcome challenges to improve and preserve our environment for future generations. It is a day to think about our mark on this planet, what we can give back, and how to accomplish these goals.
Earth Day was a call to action that brought to light the environmental disasters caused by limited regulation or concern for the implications of the proper use, handling, and disposal of hazardous chemicals and wastes. The enlightenment prompted by the grassroots movement and Earth Day triggered governmental policy changes, including the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passing of the Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, as well as others.
The idea for Earth Day came from Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, after he witnessed the devastation of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, CA. At the time, the majority of the public and national political agenda remained oblivious to the troubling effects of toxic waste contaminating our environment. Senator Nelson recognized that in order to change the laws, he would need the public’s support. In 1969, inspired by the Vietnam War protestors on college campuses, he announced the idea for Earth Day, where large-scale public gatherings would demonstrate against the destruction of the environment and natural resources. On April 22, 1970, 20 million people participated in the inaugural Earth Day activities around the United States.
In December of 1970, President Richard Nixon established the U.S. EPA in order to protect human health and natural resources, including air, water, and land. Before the EPA was founded, “the federal government was not structured to make a coordinated attack on the pollutants that harm human health and degrade the environment,” according to www.EPA.gov. As a result, Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, the Clean Water Act in 1972, and the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Our perception had shifted and awareness and impact to our environment became more ubiquitous.
By 1980, Senator Nelson became the counselor of the environmental group Wilderness Society and continued to advocate for environmental causes. When asked how the inception of Earth Day changed the nation, his philosophy was that “so long as the human species inhabits the Earth, proper management of its resources will be the most fundamental issue we face.” Continuing to grow, in 1990, twenty years after its foundation, Earth Day celebrations went global with participants in over 140 countries. This year’s focus is on food recovery to reduce waste. Today it is observed by more than a billion people as the largest secular observance in the world. More information on Earth Day events and history is available at www.epa.gov/earthday and www.earthday.org.
The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.
—Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005)