Curious Nature: Earth Day to Earth yay!
Earth Day is widely known as a global holiday to celebrate our planet and take the opportunity to be stewards of our local natural places. Many of us have participated in litter pickups, tree plantings, habitat restoration projects and sustainability events in honor of planet Earth. Many more of us have taken the opportunity to get outside and appreciate the environment through skiing, hiking, biking, picnicking, walks in the park and many other forms of outdoor recreation.
But, Earth Day has not always been an Earth-Yay celebration of stewardship and the environment. It was born out of activism and necessity. Prior to the turn of the century, the Earth was seen as a resource that could provide for the human species in perpetuity. Humans viewed vital resources like water, clean air, intact forests and diversity of life as limitless and believed that Earth’s systems could easily absorb our waste without complaint.
With the publication of the book “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson in 1962, that veil was lifted. Carson’s words dove into the truth of pesticides and the resulting harm on wildlife, birds, bees and even humans, resulting in permanent damage to the environment and a silent spring devoid of the sounds of nature.
Carson calls “for humans to act responsibly, carefully, and as stewards of the living Earth.” She empowers her readers (which included President John F. Kennedy) to ask “who speaks, and why?” and seek out accountability. What followed was a series of laws to help protect some of our abused natural systems and help reverse the damage that human actions have caused. These congressional actions included: the Clean Air Act (1963), the Wilderness Act (1964), the Water Quality Act (1965) and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (1968).
“Silent Spring” was a turning point in the human relationship with the environment and sparked the modern environmental movement, but the flames of this movement were metaphorically and literally fanned by the Cuyahoga River Fire in 1969. This fire did not burn through forests or grasslands; the river itself was on fire due to the amount of pollution being dumped into the waterway. The stewards that “Silent Spring” empowered knew that it was time to act!
Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, and Rep. Pete McCloskey of California answered that call to action and hired Denis Hayes, an environmentalist and organizer, to start planning a way to raise awareness of environmental issues and generate some momentum. Through borrowing methods of protest from the civil rights movement (sit-ins, marches and lobbying Congress), the resulting event was a nationwide demonstration to protest against environmental ignorance. On April 22, 1970, an estimated 20 million people united to use their voice to make it known that the environment needed our help and that it is worth fighting for. This demonstration went down in history as the first Earth Day.
A cascade of policy and legislation was soon to follow including: the National Environmental Policy Act (1970), the foundation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the Clean Water Act (1972), the banning of DDT (a harmful pesticide) in 1972, the Endangered Species Act (1973), the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972), the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974) and the Toxic Substances Control Act (1976).
But the work is far from done. This year, in the original spirit of Earth Day and the modern celebration of Earth-Yay, let’s unite as a community to engage in stewardship and use our individual and collective voice to take action. Take a look at these local events and spend your Earth Day supporting the environment right here in the Eagle River Valley.
- Walking Mountains Science Center Climate Action Week starting Thursday, April 21
- Eagle Valley Land Trust Community Lands Connection Series kicking off Monday, April 18
- Town of Vail Earth Day Poo Patrol on Friday, April 22
- Eagle River Watershed Council Community Pride Highway Cleanup on Saturday, April 30
Carrie Anderson is the Environmental Leadership Coordinator at Walking Mountains Science Center. She is often seen exploring the wild places, trails and ski runs in the White River National Forest and beyond.