This February was the second driest on record for Humboldt County, which is also ground-zero for sea-level rise on the West Coast with levels projected to rise one foot by 2030. As we confront a climate crisis that is coming from multiple directions, it’s easy to forget just how much sooner we would have reached this point if environmental consciousness had not been raised in the 60s and 70s.
The first Earth Day, in 1970, was organized by Gaylord Nelson after witnessing the ravages of an oil spill off the coast of California. Inspired by the actions of anti-war protestors, Nelson wanted to channel that energy to affect change. Started as a grassroots movement, Earth Day built public support for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and contributed to the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, and the Endangered Species Act, legislations that have protected our resources and improved our lives immeasurably.
As someone born on the cusp of Generations X and Y, it’s hard for me to imagine a time before Earth Day and the legislation that followed. Unfortunately, for many in my generation, it has become a holiday like Halloween or Valentine’s Day; we celebrate with a specific activity (most likely a trash clean-up), get a commemorative t-shirt or reusable mug, then have snacks and go home. On the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, as our lives are being upended by COVID-19, I propose that we all take the time to celebrate this holiday in a meaningful way and think about how we can change our lives and our legislation to protect our home. Let’s recognize what is essential–our families and communities, whether human, plant or animal, and access to clean air, water and soil– and let’s fight like hell to protect it.