At a UNESCO conference in San Francisco in October, 1969, longtime activist John McConnell proposed a global holiday to celebrate Earth’s life and beauty, to advance peace, and to alert people about the need for preserving and renewing the threatened ecological balances upon which all life on Earth depends. . Yesterday marked the 46th celebration of McConnell’s vision; we call it Earth Day.McConnell’s original proposal called for Earth Day to be celebrated on the first day of spring. Indeed, the first Earth Day celebration was held March 21, 1970 in San Francisco. Gaylord Nelson, a former US Senator from Wisconsin, founded a second Earth Day on April 22 as an environmental teach-in.
Two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States participated in the event that year. These days, Earth Day is an international event, and is celebrated in more than 192 countries each year.
I remember the first Earth Day teach-ins. I was in ninth grade at the time, and my school district participated in the events. A lot has changed in the years since the first Earth Day, and quite a few of the things we look at as commonplace these days were just ideas and dreams back then.
Recycling’s a prime example. I remember when recycled paper was this brown, unbleached, rough textured stuff which was more about image than anything else if we’re to be honest about it. About the only large scale recycling that anybody saw was the scrap metal business.
These days, most of our paper is recycled; for example, in 2011, 66.8 percent of paper consumed in the United States was recycled. Most communities and/or waste disposal services have recycling programs in place for not only paper but aluminum and plastic as well. It seems these days that there’s some sort of recycling program for almost everything we produce.
However, not everything is sunshine and roses. While it’s true that our rivers and lakes don’t catch on fire like they used to (unless an oil train derails, that is), tap water around some fracking sites will. Our air quality’s cleaned up dramatically in the US, but it’s become horrendous in China. Environmental regulations are weakened or removed by our elected officials as a favor to the special interests that fund their campaigns. The list goes on…
We need to always be conscious of the impact we humans have on the planet and the environment. We need to recycle the spirit of Earth Day constantly. It’s the only home we have; it’s up to us to take care of it.