It may be no surprise to anyone reading this that every day is Earth Day to those of us at Live Life Resources, but seeing as the officially designated day is celebrating its 52nd birthday this week, we feel it deserves a proper fete.
It used to be tough to talk about Earth Day; if you happened to be a college student in the 1990s, and majored in anything other than Earth Science or similar, that was probably the first you’d heard of it. And if you were older than that, it may have been many years before you would hear about it in your adulting life. Those people more environmentally aware of the danger the Earth’s climate was in were often called “hippies,” or doom merchants, or worse. And it would take a while for Earth Day to become a recognizable thing to the general public, but nowadays, due to climate change being a generally known and omnipresent threat, Earth Day is kind of a big deal. And those science majors likely nod sagely and mutter “We told you so” under their breath.
According to the official website of Earth Day, the day of awareness-raising sprang from college campuses. In the decades leading up to the first designated Earth Day on April 22, 1970, fuel-inefficient cars guzzled leaded gas like it was inexhaustible, air and water pollution ran largely unchecked, and smog and a “funny smell” in cities was normal. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring,” detailing the correlations between pollution and deteriorating public health, was published. It would become a “New York Times” bestseller, and really begin opening eyes. In subsequent years, Wisconsin junior senator Gaylord Nelson was becoming increasingly concerned about such matters, and when he witnessed the horrors of a major oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in January of 1969, his commitment to the environmental movement truly galvanized. Nelson had been impressed by the energy and organization of students protesting the war, and he wanted to bring that energy to raising public consciousness about the effect rampant pollution was having on everything. In a bipartisan effort to do something about it, Nelson teamed up with Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, who was himself a conservation proponent, and also young activist Dennis Hayes, to help organize a day of campus teach-ins focusing on environmental health and activism. They chose April 22 because it fell safely between most colleges’ spring break and final exams week, and Earth Day was born (albeit with a slightly different name).
From there, Hayes put his organizational skills to use, building a significant national staff and got a wide array of groups across the U.S. to demonstrate and rally to raise awareness of the terrible effects industrial society was having on the environment, wildlife, and human health, and spur action. The movement was growing, but it was still only about 10% of the population participating.
In 1990, Earth Day went global, thanks to Hayes and a group of environmental leaders, and awareness and momentum have grown exponentially ever since; it’s marked by more than a billion people every year nowadays, and has gone far beyond college campuses. But we need to keep that momentum going every single day.
As individuals, there are all kinds of little things we can do, little choices we can make, that make cumulative, positive impacts: reusing/recycling keeps stuff out of landfills; composting reduces landfill waste too, but also gives your garden some free, nutritious snacks; supporting Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) significantly lessens food insecurity, and eases the demand for fossil fuels to transport that food, as does growing and preserving your own food (and sharing with neighbors, especially those neighbors who might be going through a rough time, if you can!). Making your yard a safe respite for wildlife can be as simple as putting out a couple of birdbaths, making and throwing some wildflower seed bombs with kids or friends, or planting some pretty, native shrubs and plants. We can also join up with organizations bringing about positive change; just as a tsunami is made up of drops of water, movements are made up of individual people.
There’s a commonsense analogy used in Buddhism about the Earth being the container, and all of us - humans, animals, birds, insects, rivers, forests - being the contents; if one part of the contents gets poisoned, it spreads to other contents, and before long it spreads to the container itself, which will disintegrate with time. But if we consistently pinpoint and treat the poison, as opposed to ignoring it, it doesn’t have to win. Interconnectedness is not simply an idea or a philosophy or a spiritual tennet; it is, simply put, a reality. You don’t need to be the kind of person who talks to plant spirits, or sees auras, or senses “vibes” to understand, to KNOW, that our actions and our choices affect the world, and vice-versa. If you don’t believe us, plant a little garden, and watch what happens!
Ultimately, Earth Day is a day to gather in community for reflection, inspiration, and planning. It’s what we do with the rest of the days of the year that have an impact.
Happy Earth Day, friends.
Article by Shawna Lee Perrin