April 20, 2010

40th Anniversary of Earth Day

Ramona Madosingh-Hector, Bushnell Urban Sustainability Agent, Pinellas County Extension

“The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats and biodiversity… that’s all there is. That’s the whole economy. That’s where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world”
Gaylord Nelson

In recent times, the buzz word “sustainability” has taken hold internationally and is central to many facets of development. As we approach the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, it’s important to examine how this event can also be leveraged to spread the message of sustainability throughout the global community.

Since the inception of Earth Day in 1970, our nation and the global community has committed to protecting our environment. What started as a grassroots movement to promote environmental awareness and advocate for environmental protections has resulted in the creation of regulatory agencies; heightened awareness of environmental issues; established networks of interested stakeholders; and a global ethic of environmentalism.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency was formed in 1970, eight months after the first Earth Day event was held in the United States. Prior to Earth Day 1970, there were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environmental resources. Within the first decade of Earth Day, our leaders committed to passing (and amending) the following legislations.
1970 - Clean Air Act
1970, 1969 - National Environmental Policy Act
1970 - Occupational and Safety Health Act
1973 - Endangered Species Act
1974 - Safe Drinking Water Act
1976 - Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
1976 - Toxic Substances Control Act
1977,1972, 1948 - Clean Water Act (Federal Water Pollution Control Act)
1980 - Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund)
These laws provided the checks and balances for resource use but since the late 1990’s; no new laws have been passed that expressly protect the environment. In light of global discussions on climate change, energy demands, and changing economic and demographic factors, it’s important to re-examine our use of natural resources.

Earth Day embodies the elements of sustainability and the opening quote by its founding father, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, highlights the connections between earth’s systems and our need to focus on the environment, economy and society. Of these three elements, individuals can have the largest impact at the societal level. As individuals, we have the opportunity to examine the footprints we’ve made on Earth’s landscape and the tolls we’ve exacted on the natural capital of the world. The sum total of our individual efforts will result in a positive additive effect – if each person makes an effort, together we can make a difference.

Fifteen years ago, at the silver jubilee of Earth Day in 1995, Gaylord Nelson challenged Earth Day observers to create a “sustainable society.” In 2010, we are still striving to meet that goal. Where do we go from here? As individuals, we must become leaders in our local communities and we must incorporate sustainable practices in our daily life. We must also encourage and support our political leaders to move beyond the environmental successes of the 70s and 80s and look towards meeting the challenges of the 21st century.

The global challenges we face cannot be attributed to one nation or to one people, instead it is due to our lack of responsibility for our actions. Last year’s Copenhagen Climate Conference highlighted that though nations have acknowledged the climate crisis, much work is still to be done in achieving a scientific consensus, developing a plan of action, and implementing strategies for mitigation and adaptation. On this, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, we should strive to realize the vision of a sustainable society that promotes healthy communities, healthy ecosystems and healthy economies. In so doing, we will once again become risk takers like the participants of 1970, and seek to change the world for all of us.

Staff at Pinellas County Extension will play our part in celebrating and promoting the message of Earth Day in local schools by focusing on water resource protection through conservation.

Participate in an Earth Day event near you and take your small step towards the creation of a global, sustainable society! Guide to Local Events

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