Why on Earth an Earth Day?

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.” - Native American Proverb

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” - Native American Proverb

“Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?” - Groucho Marx

Groucho Marx was undoubtedly trying to be funny; hopefully he didn’t truly believe that. But unfortunately, there are those who don’t seem to care.

Have you ever heard of a river on fire? In June of 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio actually caught fire. Waste products, toxic and flammable, were being dumped directly into the river by industries along the banks of the once-beautiful river. With underwater visibility less than 6 inches, there were no fish, no animal life.

The oil slick was ignited by sparks from a passing train and the river caught fire as it had a number of times before.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the oil spill in Santa Barbara? You may be thinking of the one two years ago when a ruptured onshore pipeline spilled over 100,000 gallons. However, 50 years earlier there was a massive oil spill off the coast.

In January of 1969 more than 3 million gallons of crude oil spewed from drilling-induced cracks in the ocean floor, coating hundreds of miles of ocean, killing untold numbers of marine life and fouling 30 miles of sandy beaches.

In 1969, rivers on fire, a massive oil spill, dirty air that made it hard to breathe.

Was it any wonder that some people, people who did care about the earth and future generations, took exception to these events as the status quo and decided to do something about it?

There was growing awareness of the link between declining public health and pollution. The environmental awareness led to the inauguration of Earth Day in 1970.

Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) was the initiator of the idea, and Congressman Pete McCloskey (R-California) was a key supporter.

They encouraged university students and concerned citizens to take the lead. An estimated 20 million Americans - young and old, rich and poor, Republican and Democrat, urbanites and farmers - gathered on April 22, 1970 to confront the ecological troubles in their communities, nation, and planet, and to demand action. Their message was “the defiling of mother earth must stop.”

The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency soon followed.

Earth Day is now observed in 192 countries and is celebrated by more than a billion people every year, yet air and water pollution persists.

“May there be only 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.” - UN Secretary-General U Thant, February 1971.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” - From “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss

What will you do to observe Earth Day?

Note: Local celebrations of Earth Day this year will take place on Friday, April 21, at Oakhurst Feed and Pet Supply; and 9 a.m. - 3 p.m., on Saturday, April 22, at North Fork Elementary School.