I was a carefree kid of the Seventies – oblivious that the environmental movement was getting traction. I remember my mom taking part in the Potomac River Watershed clean up. At that time it was common to see oily film and foamy sludge on rivers in our country.
We played in it, for goodness sake.
But still; I remember that even while we waited in lines to fill our big American cars with leaded gasoline there was an undercurrent of awareness going on. And I remember being proud of my mom for her activism. It was the time for peace, love and taking a stand.
So while the rivers in Chicago literally burned from pollution, the first Earth Day was conceived and celebrated on April 22, 1970.
The idea to channel the anti-war activism that had begun on college campuses
with a fresh focus on cleaning up the environment came to Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. He was able to solicit support from both sides of the political aisle for a “national teach-in on the environment"; persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair; and recruited Denis Hayes from Harvard as national coordinator. With Hayes' promotion, the first Earth Day was recognized by nearly 20 million Americans rallying in streets, parks and auditoriums.
The idea was – and still is – that we all play a part in keeping our planet healthy.
By the end of that first year, the public support for the movement led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.
Earth Day has gone global since its early inception and continues to educate and encourage activities that change human behavior and provoke policy changes that don't just help the environment, but challenges each of us to take ownership of the planet.
In remarks given at the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, Nelson challenged the audience with these words: "a new beginning is at hand.... We can measure up to the challenge if we have the will to do so — that is the only question. I am optimistic that this generation will have the foresight and the will to begin the task of forging a sustainable society."
And that is the question I pose to you: What can you do to help keep the earth healthy?
It is not a partisan issue. It does not hinge on whether or not you believe in global warming. It is not for the rich or for the elite. It is for all of us - every generation, every tongue and every tribe.
Another childhood memory I have is of my Grandad stopping the car, turning around and making me pick up trash that I'd thrown out the window. He didn't get mad or give me a lecture, he just made his point in a very impressionable way. This, I believe, is part of our responsibility too - teaching good stewardship to the next generation.
So I challenge you this week to set some time aside on Saturday to take part in an Earth Day activity and, if possible, include your kids or grand kids. You may join a group that is planning a 'clean up' of the highway or waterways nearby - or just clean up an area in front of your house or woods; you may make a compost bin or just begin throwing your coffee grinds in the garden; you may go through your garage and take old metals to the recycling station or just begin recycling your garbage, but if we all join together to give back to the earth it will make a difference. Happy Earth Day!
You may not be able to save the rain forest, but you can plant a tree.