Earth Day was a new idea –to have a celebration for the Earth and for Life rather than a celebration for one of us or for a human accomplishment. The Earth needed us to stand up for her against the pollution and overuse of pesticide that increasingly threatened health and quality of life. I had watched the Schuylkill River burn one summer when I taught in Philadelphia and had struggled to breathe the smog-blanketed air of Los Angeles. I had read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
The first Earth Day was spearheaded by Wisconsin Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson, soon joined by Republican Senator Pete McCloskey. I joined the twenty million Americans who poured into the streets, squares and parks to hear speeches and to organize. My brother and his Conservation Natural Resources teacher and my husband-to-be, John Cummings, organized an Earth Day event at Zellerbach Hall, UC, Berkeley, featuring Senator Proxmire. The results of this burst of activism and concern were immediate and very hopeful. President Nixon formed the EPA at the end of 1970 and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts soon followed. DDT was banned in 1972, followed by The Endangered Species Act. The environmental movement had successfully launched.
How do we recover this sense of purpose in this darker, even more challenging time as we face the fact that in spite of fifty years of regulations, global greenhouse gas emissions have skyrocketed from 325 ppm to 411 ppm and 9 trillion tons of ice have melted? The mean global temperature has risen 1 degree and if we fail to act is on track for an unprecdented rise of 3 to 4 degrees by the end of the century. As we cope with social isolation to combat the threat of Covid-19, a new and potentially lethal microbe, we must also respond to the larger, looming threat posed by a changing climate. What can we learn from this global emergency that will prepare and energize us for the inevitable challenges that lie ahead? How can we fight to protect what remains of the natural world even as we grieve for what is already lost?
I turn here to Bruce Justin Miller, former Sustainability professor at Univ. of Hawaii, one of the founders of the first Earth Day and current leader of the Council of Elders. Bruce calls on us to make a personal plan for what we can do now at home while we reflect on how we can build momentum in the future to bring positive change on this beautiful world that we share. Here is his plan:
IN THIS WEEK LEADING UP TO EARTH DAY, I WILL SPEND SOME TIME EACH DAY IN NATURE. USING THIS PLAN AS A GUIDE, I WILL OBSERVE, REFLECT, WRITE OR CREATE ART, AND SHARE WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY IN THE HOPE THAT THIS WILL CONTRIBUTE TO THE KIND OF CHANGES THAT WILL NURTURE AND PROTECT OUR PLANET AND OUR ENVIRONMENT, AND HELP TO GUARANTEE A GOOD LIFE FOR ALL OF US LONG INTO THE FUTURE.
Friday April 17:
I will take a walk around my yard, my neighborhood, a park, or a favorite beach, woods, or other wild place near to me. While walking, I will quietly observe how I feel while looking at nature, and compare that with how I feel looking at man made features. I will look for things that we have done that make the Earth more attractive, and for those things we have done that make it less beautiful.
I will find a quiet place to sit and reflect on what made me feel happy or peaceful, and what made me feel sad or upset. When I am ready, I will write an essay or make a drawing that expresses what I like about nature and about being in nature, what I observed about the way we have treated nature, and what I would like to do to ensure that nature is always there for all of us. I will start a list of some everyday things I can do in the time ahead that would make a positive difference for the natural world we share.
Saturday April 18:
I will do one of the things from my list that I think would improve how we are living with nature. One possibility would be to take a walk around my neighborhood and pick up trash. One might be to plant a tree or set up a compost pile. Another way to help nature would be to think about wildlife, and what I can do to help it survive. I will look for a small place in my yard, or a spot on my patio, where I could put up a bird feeder, or plant wildflowers such as milkweed or bee balm to support bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Sunday April 19:
I will think about the food that is needed to sustain us, and about how much energy and chemicals are used to grow it commercially. I will spend a part of the day working with my family to plan, clean up, and expand a garden in our yard, add some container plantings on the patio, or start a window garden.
Monday April 20 and Tuesday April 21
I will think quietly and carefully about the hopes and dreams I have for my future, and reflect on any fears I may have about some of the issues such as climate change, pandemics, sea level rise, overpopulation, and food shortages that may make it difficult for me to achieve my dreams.
When I feel I have carefully looked at my hopes, dreams, and fears, I will write an essay, compose a song, create an expressive dance, develop a skit, make a collage, or do a drawing that describes how I hope to plan for and move into the future. I will reflect on the power each of us has to create change, and then make a list of actions my friends and I can implement starting on Earth Day 2020 and in the years ahead to make sure we all have a future in which we can realize our dreams.
Some of these actions could include making major commitments for my future, such as making sure that I, as well as my family and friends, are registered and encouraged to vote for environmental candidates, will buy more local and organic food, and will have a fuel efficient car and energy efficient home.
Wednesday April 22: EARTH DAY 2020:
When I am happy with my creative expression, I will post it today….Earth Day 2020… on my Facebook page, share it with my family, and send it to my friends. This could include my list of actions and any drawings or videos that I have made, or photos I have taken.
Then I will go outside, alone or with my family or friends, and walk through a favorite natural area, appreciating with gratitude all that we still have of the natural world.
To get inspired and see wonderful examples of what local artists and poets have done to express their feelings and thoughts about the corona virus go to: https://www.facebook.com/blastedartgallery/photos/pcb.2547746955497880/2547742538831655/?type=3&theater.
Be safe. Stay well. And know we are all connected.