Wednesday marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, a globally-celebrated secular holiday. It grew out of the anti-war movement of the 1960s and a growing concern that pollution had begun to damage the environment.
The movement that gave birth to Earth Day was the result of two events in 1969, the Cuyahoga river fire and the catastrophic Santa Barbara oil spill that polluted more than a hundred miles of California's coastline and killed thousands of aquatic birds, turtles and mammals. That first Earth Day was intended to be a "national teach-in on the environment" according to Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who with Republican Rep. Pete McCloskey provided the impetus for that first observance.
Earth Day's impact was immediate: bipartisan support in Congress led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, along with the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Act. After 45 years, the environmental movement has grown in scope. Nearly a billion people in 192 countries participate in the many programs sponsored by the Earth Day Network. This year's themes include clean energy and sustainable economic growth. One ongoing activity of the Network is the Canopy Project, an effort to plant a billion trees across the planet by 2017, intended to reduce the impact on the environment of using fossil fuels.
Last Saturday, tens of thousands attended the Washington, D.C. concert and rally, "Global Citizen 2015." United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki Moon was joined by dignitaries from across the globe and congressional members from both parties. Their message is simple. It's up to us to protect our planet. As the Secretary said, "There is no plan B because there is no Planet B." This is the only Earth we've got.
Global warming, euphemistically called "climate change," is a fact. President Barack Obama's weekly address repeated the not-new news that last year was the warmest on record, and that 14 of the 15 hottest years in recorded history have occurred in the 21st century. Obama will observe Earth Day by visiting the Florida Everglades, which he described as "one of the most special places in our country." Having visited the Glades for the first time last month, I can only agree that it's a truly remarkable place, and also one of the most threatened environments in the world, an irreplaceable treasure.
Locally, the Chesapeake watershed significantly contributes to our economy and culture. Stormwater runoff carries fertilizer residue, pesticides and a large number of pollutants into streams and rivers that feed the Bay. These pollutants, especially phosphates and nitrates found in fertilizers, help create dead zones, regions with oxygen levels too low to support aquatic life; last summer's dead zone was more than a cubic mile, or over 1.1 trillion gallons incapable of supporting even a single shrimp, crab, oyster or fish. In the closing hours of this year's legislative session, the inappropriately-named "rain tax" was rolled back, but the 10 localities affected by the stormwater fees still are on the hook for federally-mandated requirements to clean up polluted stormwater.
Activities are scheduled throughout the region Wednesday. In Baltimore, the National Aquarium and Maryland Science Center have special programs on tap for families. If you can't get downtown Wednesday, the Maryland Zoo has a Party for the Planet on tap for Saturday. These events are designed to make us more aware of ways we can help conserve resources, use less energy and produce less waste. These don't need to be complicated or time consuming. One project I learned about from a fifth-grader sticks in my mind as the kind of thing anyone can do: turn off the water while brushing your teeth. Find ways to make your home more energy-efficient. Make sure your car's or truck's tires are properly inflated. Buy locally-grown produce. Invent your own project.
There's an old Native American saying, "We do not inherit the world from our parents. We borrow it from our children." Earth Day is a wake-up call from those coming after us. Let's make sure this old planet's new tenants find the place to their liking.
Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at email@example.com.