Earth Day has focused on many things since its inception in 1970.
When it began, there was very little concern on a political level about the perils of human impact on our planet. Rachel Carson’s ground-breaking book, Silent Spring, was just starting to raise awareness about the issue of pesticides, but at that time, factories could spew toxic smog into the air or dump into rivers without regulation.
Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson saw that the road ahead was grave if these travesties weren’t monitored. After witnessing the ravages of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, he convinced John and Robert Kennedy of the importance of making the environment a key issue for the American people.
President Kennedy embarked on a cross-country tour to raise awareness about the environment. However, the tour did not accomplish its desired results. Sen. Nelson decided to promote a day devoted only to environmental issues. He enlisted the help of the media and college students around the country.
When April 22, 1970, came around, Earth Day surpassed expectations. According to Nelson, “It organized itself.” The first Earth Day accomplished politically what most issues are not able to do: It brought together Republicans and Democrats, tycoons and college students, labor leaders and farmers.
More than 20 million people raised their voices on that first Earth Day, resulting in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Each year has brought a different focus to Earth Day. It has become a global holiday that raises awareness about issues such as climate change and clean energy. In addition, it is a time to celebrate community efforts at the local level. Eating locally produced foods, energy efficient home construction and environmentally sustainable transportation choices are some of the ways people can make a difference in their everyday lives.
As the 45th Earth Day approaches April 22, it is a good time to take stock of the issues that are important today and what we can do as individuals to make the Earth a healthier place. As the executive director of Durango Nature Studies, I continue to believe that teaching kids to love nature and the outdoors is the most important thing for the planet’s future. No matter where they end up in life, I hope their time spent at Durango Nature Studies will help them make conscientious, sustainable choices.
As a celebration of all that is possible, Durango Nature Studies is hosting its sixth annual Earth Day 5K and Family Fun Run on April 26 at Rotary Park. Our event will be a celebration of health: health of the planet, health of the community and health of the individual, and it will raise money for an organization that connects people to the natural world. We will have booths, music and a kids’ boat race, in addition to free food and drinks for participants.
Ultimately, Earth Day is about raising awareness, but it also is about celebrating what a healthy planet looks like for our kids. We hope you join Durango Nature Studies for this special day, as well as make a personal commitment on Earth Day to put some of things you learn into practice.
sally@durango naturestudies.org or 382-9244. Sally Shuffield is executive director of Durango Nature Studies.