"There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew."
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
April 22 marks the 41st anniversary of Earth Day, founded by Sen. Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin. Nelson was appalled at the damages caused by the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. Photographs of oil covered gulls and pelicans dying at sea and on tar covered beaches spurred him to action. He thought that he could harness the energies of the fledgling public consciousness by establishing a national day of environmental teach-ins.
One of the greatest attributes about that first celebration was the way in which everyone came together for a cleaner, healthier planet. Republicans and Democrats stood side by side without a political agenda. The attention, partly aroused by the earlier publishing of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," was about what we might do together to make things better.
We were driving cars with gas-guzzling V8 engines and most industries were not held accountable for any environmental degradation caused by their actions. Air pollution was common, and there were days when it was impossible to see anything — mountains, seas or skyscrapers — in the Los Angles basin.
That first Earth Day bore the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts. In the 41 years since, the agency and the acts have come increasingly under fire by special interest groups who are not devoted to the betterment of the planet, but of their own financial agendas.
We still drive gas-guzzling cars and still have oil spills. On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew apart, killing 11 workers and releasing more than 205 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It has the dubious distinction of being the worst oil spill in history. Everyone watched helplessly as dolphins and turtles were trapped in seas of burning oil, as noxious poisons washed up on Florida's beaches as BP desperately tried dispersants, solvents — anything to ameliorate the affect of the oil's suffocating march toward shore.
As seems to be our national consciousness, immediately there was a halt called on all drilling. We were awake to the possible environmental disaster that our oil-addicted society posed to the planet and to ourselves. And then special interest groups rallied, cried that there were plenty of safeguards in place — were they looking at the same news footage as everyone else? — and that what we needed as a nation to do was increase drilling in every possible venue.
The theme of this year's Earth Day is "A Billion Acts of Green," an aftereffect of last year's rally at the National Mall in Washington D.C. for climate change. "A Billion Acts of Green" is the largest environmental service campaign in the world, and enlists commitments from individuals, governments and corporations to quantify environmental acts. The organization's goal is to register 1 billion commitments before the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 2011. You can register your own act of green by logging on to act.earthday.org.
But why not have Earth Day every day? There are simple acts each of us can take that together, can make a difference. Walk, ride a bike, or at least car pool; quit buying bottled water; buy local produce whenever possible; challenge yourself to take your own reusable bag to the market; wash your clothes in cold water; don't pour toxic anything down your drains; plant a vegetable garden, turn off the water while you're brushing your teeth; don't eat endangered seafood; recycle your computer paper; turn off the lights, in fact, switch to florescent or LEDs; go solar; invest in a household grey water system for irrigation; and pick up those little pieces of trash you find on your own street.
Take a moment of silence in honor of the 41st celebration of Earth Day. Immerse yourself in your internal and external surroundings. Grounded in that sense of home, ask yourself in what ways can you make our planet a healthier safer place to live.
CATHARINE COOPER loves wild places. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.