Today, we pay homage to the planet we call home.
Earth Day, celebrated every year on April 22, started in 1970 after its founder Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, witnessed the devastating effects of the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif. At the time, students nationwide were demonstrating against the Vietnam War, and Nelson knew if he could tap into that energy, he could force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.
Nelson conceived the idea for a national teach-in on the environment and convinced Pete McCloskey, a Republican congressman, to serve as his co-chair, and recruited Denis Hayes from Harvard as the national coordinator to promote events across the country. April 22 was chosen as the date because it fell between spring break and final exams.
Twenty million Americans participated in rallies that first year. Thousands of colleges and universities staged protests. The day brought together Democrats and Republicans, rich and poor, city folk and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. By the end of the year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created and the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts were passed.
Nelson is quoted as saying, “It was a gamble, but it worked.”
In 1990, Earth Day went global with 200 million people in 141 countries participating. The day spawned recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. In 1995, President Bill Clinton awarded Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest honor given to civilians in the U.S.
Today, Earth Day is the largest secular observance in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people in 192 countries.
The theme for Earth Day 2019 is “Protect Our Species.” According to earthday.org, the world is facing the greatest rate of extinction since we lost the dinosaurs more than 60 million years ago, but unlike the dinosaur extinction, this current calamity is the result of human activity. The goals of the Protect Our Species campaign are to:
- Educate and raise awareness about the accelerating rate of extinction of millions of species and the causes and consequences of this phenomenon.
- Achieve major policy victories that protect broad groups of species as well as individual species and their habitats.
- Build and activate a global movement that embraces nature and its values.
- Encourage individual actions such as adopting plant-based diet and stopping pesticide and herbicide use.
Here at EMCC, we have plenty of sustainability events planned for on or around the global day of observance:
- Student researchers are taking their animal ambassadors to Desert Edge High School in Avondale April 22 and to Star Academy April 23.
- Biology 105 students are conducting a Bioblitz at Tres Rios in Avondale April 23. Anyone interested in participating in the Bioblitz, an event that records different species of plants and animals, should download the iNaturalist app at https://www.inaturalist.org/ and arrive at the Base and Meridian Wildlife Area at 8:30 a.m. To get to the Base and Meridian Wildlife Area, go to http://bit.ly/BaseAndMeridian. For more information, email Life Sciences Professor Dr. Jarod Raithel at [email protected].
- Students are delivering 400 river rocks to Desert Thunder Elementary School to be painted and placed on new burrowing owl burrows they constructed over spring break.
To learn more about Earth Day, including the history and ways you can get involved, go to www.earthday.org.