52 Years Later, 2022
“Because there was no EPA, no Clean Air Act, no Clean Water Act. There were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment. In spring 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day as a way to force this issue onto the national agenda.” – EPA
Prior to 1970, corporations could emit or dump anything they wanted out into the air, water, and soil. It seems there was no one thinking about what harm was being done to the environment. Thankfully, in 1970 awareness of environmental issues as they relate to human health were raised when Earth Day was born. The federal government established agencies to help regulate emissions, waste dumping, and other things harmful to the environment.
In the 1995 EPA Journal, then Administrator of the EPA Carol Browning wrote of environmental accomplishments over the past 25 years, but also of what still needed to be done. In her final paragraph, she stressed –
It is the job of government to protect the public. But government cannot do the job alone. We need every American to help ensure strong public health and environmental protections. Joining together is not a matter of choice – it is a necessity. We all breathe the same air, drink the same water, and work and play in the same environment. Source
As I reflect this morning on the 52nd Earth Day, I cannot express how disappointed I am in humans’ lack of care and respect for this entire planet. Yes, we have those federal agencies still trying to do what they were designed to do initially. However, in the recent years when politicians discredited science and rolled back regulations in the name of greed, a giant step back was taken. Climate science is not trusted even though the data is sound, we are living through the extreme events that were predicted, and we are feeling the impacts on our daily lives. Yet, we charge on as if our actions make no difference.
Humans are part of and have the biggest impact on the environment whether we want to believe it or not. What I cannot begin to comprehend is that we do not care enough about our environment to do the things that will keep it habitable, for ourselves!
I have spent my lifetime learning about the Earth and how it works – plants, animals, air, water, rock and soil. As I watch the shortgrass prairie near where I live be torn up and turned into paved roads and subdivisions interspersed with fracking and natural gas extraction, I am sick to my stomach. The pace of the destruction is mind-blowing. One day a beautiful field of grassland with songbirds and hawks, rabbits and other small mammals, coyotes, and insects all doing what they are meant to do is there. By the time I see the same location 24 hours later, all of that has been scraped and pushed away by land-moving equipment. What terror the animals must feel as they are killed by machinery they cannot possibly fight off!
Removing vegetation that produces oxygen and holds carbon in soil, removing animal habitat so that species will go extinct and biodiversity is decreased, and then replacing it with manmade structures and infrastructure that cause urban heat effect, pollution to air, water, and soil, and encourages the burning of fossil fuels – it makes no sense at all to me. How is this helping to create a healthy environment for humans? The answer is simply, it’s not.
Earth Day is great and I am glad that it exists so that we can have a day each year to think about why our environment is important. But it isn’t enough. How do we make people care that their kids, grandkids, and beyond can eat, drink and breathe? Every day is Earth Day. Every day we need to think about our actions, our choices, and what we are doing to help the planet be a place that life in all forms can exist. And then we need to actually act. Make different choices and follow through. Support sustainability efforts by getting involved in some way whether that is financial or by giving your time. Have conversations in your household, your community, at public events and make plans to do something. It’s not as time consuming or difficult as you might think it is. But it may be the most important thing you do in your lifetime.