Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Earth Day and its Significance

As I write this column early in the morning of April 22, I realize this is the day declared "Earth Day" throughout America. It is a day for citizens to be cognizant of the environment in which we live and what we can do to help preserve it for posterity.

I like the slogan, "Every day is Earth Day." Indeed, we cannot just practice good earth-saving techniques one day a year. We must be vigilant at all times about what we can do to help revitalize earth and its resources.

To gain a little perspective on Earth Day, how it came to be set, and its significance, a little history of the day is in order.

The April 22 date came about in this way. U. S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin visited California in 1969 just after the massive oil spill off the coast there at Santa Barbara. He was so moved by the damages that he went back to Washington and introduced a bill for Earth Day, setting the date as April 22 each year. A "Teach-in" on college campuses throughout the nation occurred on that first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. "The Environmental Handbook" was compiled and edited by Garrett DuBell to be used in the teach-ins. Senator Nelson enlisted Denis Hayes, a Harvard graduate student, to be national coordinator of the day. Unbelievably, the first Earth Day in 1970 had participants in over two thousand colleges and universities, in high schools and communities throughout the United States. It was estimated that the first celebration saw over 20 million Americans coming together on April 22, 1970 to hear issues about the environment and to seek reform measures to clean it up.

The United Nations and affiliated nations observe another day as Earth Day. This Earth Day uses the Spring Equinox (around March 20) when the sun is directly above the Earth's equator. John McConnell at a United Nations Conference on the environment introduced the idea in 1969.

The proclamation declaring the Spring Equinox as Earth Day throughout the world was signed on February 26, 1971. Written by McConnell, it stated: "May there only be peaceful and cheerful Earth Days to come for our beautiful Spaceship Earth as it continues to spin and circle in frigid space with its warm and fragile cargo of animate life." (from "UN 'Cyberschoolbus'" 2006).

Some of the legislation enacted since Earth Day began in 1970 have been formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, and the drive to recycle materials.

Several years before the movement to establish Earth Day, Rachel Carson introduced us to the dangers of not caring for earth's environment. In Silent Spring 2 (1962) she wrote: "The history of life on earth has been a history of interaction between living things and their surroundings. To a large extent, the physical form and the habits of the earth's vegetation and its animal life have been molded by the environment. Considering the whole span of earthly time, the opposite effect, in which life actually modifies its surroundings, has been relatively slight. Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one species acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world."

And, as we must admit the "one species" who alters the nature of his world is mankind. With our greed, inattention to the cycles of nature, overextending the soil and its nutrients, using water resources for our own necessities and pleasure, harvesting forests for expansive building and other technological uses, along with many other non-conserving measures that could be mentioned, man has brought the environment to its present precarious stage. In 1897 Russian writer Anton Chekhov wrote: "There are fewer and fewer forests, the rivers are drying up, the game birds are becoming extinct, the climate is ruined, and every day the earth is becoming poorer and more hideous." He does not paint a pretty picture of Earth and its resources. But he wrote that a century and a decade ago. Think of the changes that have occurred since then.

What can we, individual citizens, do? Is the problem so big that whatever effort we try to do will be only an infinitely minute and ineffective action? Considering such, we might say, "Why bother?" But I suggest to you that we can become more aware of the problem. With knowing often comes action. Regardless of your political persuasion, former Vice-President Al Gore has tried to wake us up through his book An Inconvenient Truth (2006) to global warming and what we can do about it. Alan Weisman has written a provocative analysis in his The World Without Us (2007).

We can also resolve to recycle those items recyclable. We can beware of measures to conserve water. We must not litter. Our roadways are veritable trash barrels for some who scatter waste along them. Shame on us. We can attend to emission controls on automobiles to prevent toxic fumes from escaping. We can clean up, spruce up, beautify. Our world is still a beautiful place. It is still an awesome sight to look to our beautiful mountains and see the sun dissipate the morning mists. Everyday is Earth Day. Let us celebrate!

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 24, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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