Is Earth Day Still Worthwhile?
Earth Day has been in existence for over 40 years. There is no question in my mind that the first Earth Day and many Earth Days since then have been extremely important, but is it still relevant today? Or has it become just another one of these manufactured holidays that's all style and no substance?
A brief history of Earth Day
Concern for the environment didn't start with Earth Day. In fact, examples of early environmentalism occur even in ancient civilizations. The ancient Romans were concerned about public health and water pollution and developed early sewer systems. Medieval England suffered with air pollution, leading to bans on burning coal.
The modern environmental movement is often described as beginning with the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962. Silent Spring detailed the environmental impacts of the use of the pesticide DDT in the US, and raised public awareness about the threats to wildlife and human health. Another key moment in the 1960s was when the first images of Earth from space were released. The image of a small blue planet floating in space is thought to have made people realize the fragility and uniqueness of the Earth. The result of all this public concern for environmental issues was not only Earth Day but also the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 and the subsequent ban on DDT in the US in 1972.
Earth Day was founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson. In the 1960s, Nelson often spoke on environmental issues and even convinced the President to go on a conservation tour, but it wasn't enough. He created Earth Day to force environmental issues onto the national agenda. The very first Earth Day, on April 22nd 1970, was a hugely successful grassroots movement. It is estimated that over 20 million Americans participated; a variety of groups concerned about different environmental issues all rallied together for a shared cause. It was so successful that it was followed by not only the establishment of the EPA, but also the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.
There have been other significant Earth Days, most notably 1990 and 2000. Earth Day 1990 was an international grassroots celebration, this time with more of a focus on recycling. The 1990 events helped to pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. In 2000, another big campaign was launched, this time with the added assistance of the Internet. With a focus on global warming and clean energy, the millennium celebration reached out to hundreds of millions of people all across the world. Earth Day has also been joined over the years by Earth Week, World Environment Day, Earth Hour and others.
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Do we still need Earth Day?
So do we still need Earth Day, or are we just hanging onto the past? The environmental movement existed long before its inception, there are now many other events celebrating the environment, and environmental issues are much more at the forefront of social and political thinking now than they were back in 1970. Despite all of this, my opinion is that as long as living sustainably on the Earth still matters to us, then Earth Day will always be important. It's a celebration of how wondrous the world is and an affirmation that we want to hand it over in good condition to our grandchildren one day.
Earth Day itself should be the one day a year that we dare to dream about how we can live more sustainably on this planet, and take steps toward meaningful change. It is the day for us to raise awareness and to join together to fight for the environment. But that sentiment shouldn't fall to the wayside the rest of the year. We can all do something every day to make us more in tune with the world around us. Whether it's just getting outside more, walking instead of driving to the corner store, or growing your own vegetables. Any steps we take to change our attitude toward the environment around us and minimize our impact on it are steps in the right direction.
Easy ways to celebrate Earth Day year round
- Enjoy the outdoors. Go for a walk, sit in your backyard, ride your bike, or do whatever feels right to you. This will help you to connect more with world around you.
- Try composting. Composting your own vegetable and grass clippings can be very satisfying and helps to minimize the amount of waste that goes to landfill. For those of us who live in apartments, try vermi-composting!
- Grow your own vegetables. Home-grown vegetables are tasty and may save you some money at the supermarket, too! I can't grow veg, or even herbs in my apartment to save my life, but I love growing my own veggies when I can.
- Leave the car at home. A shocking percentage of car trips are less than 2 miles. Just walk if you're only going a short distance! The exercise is good for you.
- Recycle more. Recycling helps to stop to slow the depletion of natural resources. Most recycling centers will take at least plastic 1 & 2, aluminum cans, paper (including cardboard) and glass.
- Bring your own reusable water bottle / coffee mug. Think about how much waste your bottled water / takeout coffee habit generates. For many of us this tip would save a load of waste.
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