The first Earth Day was celebrated 52 years ago – April 22, 1970. Most people know Earth Day as a day to celebrate the Earth, and it is, but the origin of Earth Day hardly bloomed out of celebration. Following the eras of philosophers, writers, and naturalists romanticizing wilderness, a ‘woke’ decade in the 1960s followed that illuminated the existence and causes of environmental harm. The masses developed a greater understanding that the environment was a public health issue and social focus shifted toward the dangers of pesticides, large stacks of unknown industrial pollutants, rivers with missing fish, and so on. As a reaction to protests and campus activism throughout the 1960s, Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin proposed a national day to raise awareness of environmental problems—Earth Day. Nelson’s effort would eventually lead to bipartisan support in Congress for the creation of a new federal agency specifically to address environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA was the first regulatory mechanism to protect our environment.
Every year we celebrate Earth Day to recognize the natural beauty of our planet and to show support for environmental protection and highlight the increasing number of environmental issues. The question is – and it’s a big one – will these problems ever stop? While I can only speak for myself, I think it is fair to say that this question is the reason why so many of us got into the environmental field in the first place.
The Earth Day we celebrate now centers largely around climate change, and if you spend any time on the internet or social media, it is easy to see. For example, Google.com updated its homepage doodle with timelapse animations showcasing the effect of climate change in different habitats. What started as just one day to celebrate our planet has evolved into a worldwide focus on environmental conservation, restoration, and education. The pioneers of Earth Day fought for avenues of justice for the environment and that created an environmental industry that is multi-dimensional and dynamic. There are academic programs based solely around environmental studies and analytical solutions, there are job and business opportunities with non-profit organizations, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and environmental consulting companies. Great Ecology is one of those environmental consulting firms; our focus is tackling environmental issues and restoring habitats around the world.
Whether you see Earth Day as a celebration of the planet’s natural beauty, a day to recognize the environmental challenges we now face, or a day to look back on the history of and forward to the future of the environmental movement, you are right! Earth Day can be whatever (or whenever) we want it to be as we celebrate the beauty, the harm, and the possibility for justice and change.