It was a time of revolution. The counter-culture movement of the day was just past its zenith, hundreds of thousands of students and demonstrators from all over the country gathered in protest against the government’s unpopular actions. Industrial countries were experiencing rising inflation while other countries had undergone political upheavals. Technology and ‘modern’ society continually evolved and the land, air and sea were being consumed for the purposes of ‘progress.’
Sound somewhat familiar?
The first Earth Day occurred on April 22nd in the year 1970. At the start of the decade, the Hippie movement was still going on and many Americans were protesting the Vietnam War. Hoping to channel that fervent political activist energy, Gaylord Nelson (Senator from my favorite state of Wisconsin) arranged for the first Earth Day in which citizens would learn more about the benefits and crucial role of the environment, and unite to become a voice for nature against exploitation and pollution in order to spur nation-wide change. 20 million Americans from all over, including thousands of colleges and universities participated in the event by staging protests and demonstrations in an effort to prevent further deterioration of the environment.
As a result, the United States Government formed the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental conservation and pollution control acts were passed. By 1990, Earth Day had become an international event, spanning 141 countries. Earth Day proved to the world that many people speaking together for the protection of the environment could make not only a local difference, but a national and international one as well.
Here, in the year 2012, our society is in a somewhat similar situation as 1970 (to see how the Earth has changed since the 70’s, check out this site). It certainly is a time of great global change (think environmental disasters, political riots, wars, a growing population and rising gas prices), and thanks to the Environmental Movement which started in the 70s, environmental conservation has now evolved into sustainability (which includes, economic, social and environmental sustainability) as one of the main issues that define our generation. But understanding the problem isn’t enough, just like the first Earth Day, we have to band together and show the people in power that this issue needs to be resolved, and we are all prepared to do it.
Now more than ever we need to revive that same energy that was used to protest the Vietnam War, the same energy that was used during the Occupy Movement, and channel it towards solving these globe-spanning issues. I don’t necessarily mean go out and protest (but hey, if that’s your thing, I respect that), I mean keep those issues at the forefront of your mind. Whenever you throw something away, make sure to check if it can be recycled, whenever you vote, make sure you know what your candidates stand for, when you buy a product, understand where your product came from, when you go to school or go to work, ask yourself how what you do now makes a positive impact on those around you? Earth Day isn’t just here to be a 24 hour span where you can feel good about being ‘one with the Earth’ and plant a tree (although I will probably go check out my University’s Earth Day Events), it’s an event to garner acknowledgement of environmental (and to an extension, social and political) issues and encourage activism. You don’t have to protest, you just have to do something. It’s no longer just an Earth Day, it’s time for an Earth Week, Earth Year, Earth Decade…well, you get the idea.
So while you take this day to appreciate all the nice things about the environment, remember that you need Nature just as much as it needs you (maybe even more so). And don’t be discouraged, there are plenty of ways to participate if protesting or being all activist isn’t a thing you do. I guess what I’m saying is find something that you love to do, and think about how you can apply that for the benefit of the environment. And I don’t just mean protest the wildlife and trees, when I mean the benefit of the environment I mean EVERYTHING, because everything is connected to the environment. And because of its all-encompassing nature, the Environment is a powerful unifying banner to march under. As the Earth Day official site says, “Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders.”
I hope this didn’t sound too much like a preach-in-your-face post. I know I’m guilty of not doing many of the things that I talked about doing. Hopefully I’ll get outside today and enjoy the fresh air and see what everyone is up to for Earth Day. All I want to do is to try to get you to think about it, and to make sure to keep that thought process going beyond Earth Day. It’s not a thing just for hippies, there are many ways to look at the Earth, but not matter what it’s always seen as a valuable resource that needs to be protected, and to do that we need to learn how to keep striving towards sustainability.
Note: For an updated definition of what Sustainability means to me, see the About page