The first Earth Day was officially held on April 22, 1970. However, this day evolved over seven years when Sen. Gaylord Nelson in 1962 encouraged President Kennedy to spotlight the environment in the U.S. At Sen. Nelson’s urging, President Kennedy, in 1963, went on a five-day 11-state conservation tour and planted the seed for the eventual Earth Day as we know it.
In 1969 Sen. Nelson went on a conservation speaking tour of his own. At the time there were speak-ins, or anti-Vietnam War Demonstrations, and the “hippie” movement was in full swing. College campuses were abuzz with activist issues. Mr. Nelson’s actual idea for “Earth Day” caught on with college students, newspapers and television stations across the country. Some 20 million people across the U.S. celebrated the first Earth Day, raising awareness of our impact on the environment, in the present and for future generations.
In 1990 Earth Day went global. Some 200 million people in 145 countries focused on depletion of our natural resources and need to change. In the year 2000 Earth Day pushed to highlight global warming and the need for clean energy. Over 5,000 organized environmental groups in over 184 countries celebrated Earth Day and voiced support for political awareness of clean energy and global warming.
This was a very brief history of Earth Day, but what does all this mean? We live in a world of instant communication and instant results. But when dealing with the environment, climate change, local foods and changing habits, there are no instant results or instant measurable results. How do we understand and how do we teach practice change? Can we do something for others, even though we may not see personal benefits?
In working for the Cooperative Extension Service, our goal is education and practice change. We educate for practice change to make lives better in our community. Earth Day’s goals are the same. If we can spotlight the problem, educate about environmentalism and initiate practice change, we will be successful in making lives better in our communities, countries and eventually in the world. But it starts with each one of us, making conscious decisions to recycle, to conserve energy, to think of others when making decisions. We are all connected now more than ever, and what we do now will affect our neighbors and future generations.
Living in the world of Internet, Facebook, smart phones, television, text messaging, radio, Twitter, and other information technologies, we are constantly bombarded with buzz words such as “going green,” organic, all-natural, and sustainability. But what does all this really mean? Legal definitions for all these may be debated, but what we all really need to understand is that to honor Earth Day’s objectives, we will make life choices to conserve use of gasoline and fuel, eat local, sustainably raised food when possible, and look for Earth-friendly products when we shop. Sustainable living means making choices in a way that doesn’t take away quality of life for future generations.
Currently, we are living in a time of climate change. No matter your political views or background, there is overwhelming evidence that our world is changing quickly! Floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, late freezes, ice storms, blizzards, and even droughts are occurring with ferocity that hasn’t been seen in written historical times. Have these things occurred before? Sure, but how quickly? How often? How bad? The ice caps are melting and there is no arguing about that. Flowers and trees are blooming and budding earlier here than they were just 20 years ago. How many of you remember tulips blooming on Derby Day? How about now? Seen any lately? Why? Because they have bloomed and are gone before the first Saturday in May. Did this happen by accident? We are warmer now. Tulips break ground in February or even January now. That didn’t happen 30 years ago!
There are people that feel the world is too big for humans to affect it. However, there are some six billion of us living on the planet now, more than the total of all the people that have ever come before us! We can get in an airplane and be in California in three hours! We cut forests down and pave over hundreds of acres at a time. We drive using fossil fuels and don’t think about the consequences, except that $4-per-gallon price tag. But what price are our children going to pay for our lack of self discipline and lack of action or practice change? Are we going to allow the current generation being born today to pay for our current lifestyles? Look at the faces of the children of today. Are you willing to place your burdens on their shoulders?
So, where do we go from here? How do we carry our own burdens and allow the youth here today to live in a world with clean water, clean fuel, sustainable food sources, a climate not in flux, and clean air? It starts with each one of us deciding to recycle, buy fuel-efficient vehicles, turn off the lights, turn off the thermostats, open the windows, eat at home, and use glass plates instead of Styrofoam. It starts with thinking before you act. It starts with eating locally produced foods. It starts by buying locally produced products. It starts with buying from farmers that use sustainable farming practices. It starts now! It starts with practice change! It starts with you!
Let’s all make an effort to recycle, burn less fossil fuel, consume locally produced foods, and use locally produced products, so that we can all live in a locally sustainable community that is not only as good as we have now, but better for future generations to come.