Earth Day #50

Karen Schneller-McDonald, April 17, 2019

The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. It gave voice to an emerging consciousness about the health of our planet. Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”,  a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, Ohio’s Cayahuga River on fire, set the stage, sparked by the energy of the anti-war protest movement. The mood across the country was optimistic, as a Washington Post article described: “A great outpouring of Americans— several million in all likelihood— demonstrated yesterday their practical concern for a livable environment on this earth. So many politicians, in fact, took part in yesterday’s Earth Day activities that the United States Congress shut down. Scores of senators and congresssmen fanned out across the country to appear at rallies, teach-ins, and street demonstrations.”

On Earth Day, 1970, more than 20 million Americans took to the streets in rallies, marches, and teach-ins across the country. (

Earth Day 1970 put environmental concerns on the front page, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, urban and rural dwellers, people of all ages and backgrounds. By the end of that year, the first Earth Day had led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act. 

Can you imagine?

Earth Day, 2019 is the fiftieth time we will celebrate this awareness of planet earth. Though the general condition of our air and water have improved because of the the EPA and the Acts mentioned above, we are beset by many of the same problems we faced in 1970: repeated oil spills, contaminated water, pesticides and other chemicals that are killing bees and making us sick, and worse, the specter of climate change. Warming oceans, massive floods, fires, extinctions, violent storms: Now we face not only local and national consequences but also global consequences of our actions.

Complicating our response to these problems is a government in Washington that is hellbent on removing many of the protections so painstakingly put into place. Industrial agriculture, fossil fuel companies, and other corporate entities have been lobbying for these changes for years, trying to chip away at land, air, water, and health protections. Let’s make it easier to drill for more oil, frack more natural gas, build more pipelines, and dismantle the protections put into place in the 1970’s.

What happened?

And what can we do about it? How can we regain vision and action of the first earth day, with real hope for clean air and water, a better future for planet earth and for us all?

I think it’s already happening. Amid overwhelming evidence that we are on the wrong path if what we seek is a sustainable future on planet earth, something else has emerged: a new generation of awareness and action.

Kids as young as 9 or 10 are recognizing the problems caused by climate change  and are finding their voice through action. Take a look at this short film, “Kids vs Global Warming,” how a 13 year old in Ventura learned that his voice matters (// ). You can find more inspiring stories on the Young Voices for the Planet website at

Something is clicking into place. Across the world, kids are finding a voice, pooling their energy, speaking truth to power. They get it. They know what’s wrong and what caused it, and they know what needs to happen to address the harm. The necessary changes will not be small, or easy; they will change our lives. Marches for Climate and Science, sit-ins and demonstrations, Earth Day celebrations and projects, addressing politicians, growing community support, challenging fossil fuel and industrial agriculture’s corporate greed. Those busy amassing power and money at the expense of our air, our water, our earth— must be relegated to the past. Our lives depend on it, and our kids know this! They are not afraid of changes to the status quo.

Climate change is inevitable. To what degree will we take charge of that change—or just be its victims?

This Earth Day, lets give all who stand up for real change— students and non students alike—a round of applause. Encourage them, support them, join them, and help kick the obstacles to success out of the way! 

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