HAPPY EARTH DAY!!!! Sunshine, balmy days, blooming flowers, budding trees, birds calling to each – it’s all SO GOOD! THANK YOU Mother Earth!!! After a long winter, it’s the time of year here in New Jersey and the Northeast to bring out the barbeque grills, gardening tools and soon the lawn mower; the time to pack away snow boots and mittens; the time to savor the scents, colors, and shapes of nature’s new life emerging as the daylight hours expand and the earth warms. It is the time of bright cheerful daffodils and tulips, tree blossoms, greening shrubs and tiny wildflowers poking through the ground. It is a time when we are reminded of the cycle of life and the joys of rebirth, renewal, hopefulness and the earth’s beauty. It is a time of feeling the pleasure of the moment and of savoring thoughts and daydreams of what the next days, weeks and warm months will bring.
We have expectations that a rainbow of colors will appear in our parks and gardens; that fresh locally grown produce will appear in our stores; that the butterflies and migrating birds will reappear, that fish will be waiting to be baited in the streams. It is about our summer plans for trips to lakes, rivers and ocean shores and about day trips to hikes in our woodlands and meadows and mountain paths. It is about the expectation that our wildlife will survive, that we will have open natural spaces to go to, that our oceans and rivers and lakes and streams will be clean and functional. It is not just the here and now that makes us happy at the start of spring, but the unspoken belief that all of these things will continue to be available to us. Yet, we forget how much hard work and dedication it has taken by generations of people before us who fought for and advocated for a cleaner earth. We forget that we need to do the same so that our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren can have expectations of clean water, unpolluted land and air, healthy food and places to explore and enjoy nature.
Perhaps you remember what it was like forty plus years ago before the clean environment movement began and before many of the laws that we have today came into being. Or perhaps you were too young to be aware or not even born yet. Those years were critical times in shaping our view of taking care of this earth we call home. PICTURE THIS: Back then highways, byways and local streets in New Jersey and across the country were filled with gas guzzling, air polluting eight-cylinder yacht- sized cars and trucks; the New Jersey Meadowlands was a dumping ground so filled with toxic ‘stuff’ that people hated driving and commuting in and out of the NYC because of the horrific odors that filled the air for miles around; factories spewed foul smoke into the air and dumped toxic waste into the waters of the Hudson River, the bays , streams and rivers killing fish and other wildlife that depended on the habitat. Birds were falling from the sky, dead from unknown causes. Most of this was hushed up, pushed under the rug and pretty much ignored by politicians and companies that had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. But a few brave people – scientists, environmentalists, educators – began speaking out and eventually the public began to pay attention and spread the word. Finally, citizens just like you and I gathered together to raise concern, to say “That’s Enough” and to create one of the greatest environmental movements for change that this country has ever seen.
A major impetus for this was a book – a controversial book about environmental science that made the New York Times best seller list and stayed on that list for a record 31 months. The book was “Silent Spring” and the woman who wrote it was Rachel Carson. Published in September 1962, it was based on years of research and empirical evidence. She warned against the use of chemical pesticides such as DDT and pushed for efforts and legislation for a cleaner earth. The book, the supporting documentation, the research and Dr. Carson personally were all attacked and maligned by just about every chemical company that made the pesticide, among other people, organizations and institutions of higher learning. But the message spread and Americans purchased it, read it, believed in her views and took action to do something about it, spurring the beginning of the clean environment movement. We came to see that her warnings were indeed valid as the populations of the American eagle, ospreys and other living things in the food chain dropped to seriously low levels. The work of Dr. Carson and of her supporters led to the formation of the Environment Defense Fund, an organization that at the time filed lawsuits against the government to ban the use of DDT in the United States and throughout the world and to “establish a citizen’s right to a clean environment.“ By 1972, the EDF and other activist groups had succeeded in securing a phase-out of DDT use in the U.S. One very noticeable and welcome result is that our eagles, osprey and many other wildlife populations are beginning to rebound.
And what about those ordinary folks that I mentioned? – the neighbors, the church groups, the school children, the laborers, the housewives, the rich, the poor, the college educated and those with little schooling? Those people took action, they joined together to demand change. On April 22, 1970, officially the first Earth Day, approximately twenty million of them took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests in support of a clean environment. Environmental groups from across the nation that had been fighting oil spills, toxic dumps, pesticides, loss of wilderness and wildlife habitat joined together in common values. By the end of that year, the first Earth Day had led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.
By the year 2000, Earth Day had become a global effort and currently it has reached the status of being the largest secular observance in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people each year. It is a day of action geared towards both behavior and policy change. Note the word ACTION. That means all of us – country leaders, local politicians, corporate America, communities and individuals like you and I. There is much more to do with so many environmental issues at stake such as global warming, diminishing open space habitat, huge losses in the populations of our pollinating insects, and continued issues with polluted air and waterways just to name a few.
So, in the days ahead when you are outside and soaking up that spring splendor, make a pact with yourself and with Mother Earth to do something to help. Commit to AT LEAST one thing – make one gesture to celebrate what she gives to us and give something back to her. Plant a tree or wildflowers in your backyard; start a community project to plant milkweed for the butterflies; join a local river, woods, neighborhood cleanup effort, or volunteer in some way to help your local environmental group. Each one of us individually can do something and as those who joined together on that first Earth Day proved, together we can make a great difference. Make Earth Day your own special, personal commitment day to celebrate what’s good in our environment and to pay it forward to keep the momentum going towards a cleaner, healthier earth that is cherished and protected for future generations.