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The Green Guy: Earth Day was an inspiration


April 17, 2020

Anniversaries are special occasions. And next week we celebrate 50 years from when we experienced one of the greatest shifts in values in the U.S. and across the globe: Earth Day.

The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970. It followed on the heels of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill in California that remains the third largest in U.S. history after the 1989 Exxon Valdez and 2010 Deepwater Horizon spills. Oil killed more than 10,000 large sea animals (dolphins, seals) and devastated a cherished coastline. This, and several prior notable incidents, created a demand for measures and a framework to prevent accidents that maim our outdoors.

Fast forward more than a year and we have an organized event that rallied 20 million people (10 percent of our population at the time) to advocate for change. This was well-heard by policymakers and met with bipartisan support. In less than two years, we saw environmental laws passed by President Nixon and Congress that provided not only guidelines, but a framework for development over time: the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and an expansion of the Clean Air Act of 1963.

The Environmental Protection Agency was established to provide a centralized force to assess policy, oversee changes and developments, and work with states to meet common needs.

It is the day when American citizens unified to say that environmental stewardship is a national priority and there is value in conservation.

It ultimately unified what were singular and separate efforts into a collaboration toward a shared purpose. It was a catalyst for actions that forever redefined our course and shaped our values of today and expectations of business and policy.

The movement resonated with much of the world and started a path to better environmental protection, for which we served as a model. Earth Day is a testimony to and the result of the many freedoms we have: the right to protest, to collaborate, to speak freely, and to initiate change for the better.

On this 50-year anniversary of Earth Day, look at it not as a day simply of passion for the environment, but as a shining example of the rights we have in directing our nation. Celebrate accordingly with an act in conservation.

Chris Gass is the education and outreach coordinator for the Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District.


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