The year was 1970, and on April 22nd, Earth Day* was born.
In 1969, seven years after Rachel Carson sounded the alarm on the effects of pesticides on birds in Silent Spring, Santa Barbara saw a devastating oil spill, in which 80,000-100,000 barrels of crude contaminated the waters, six miles off its coast. The spill was the largest of its kind at the time, and was reported to have killed approximately 3,500 sea birds and other marine life, such as sea lions, dolphins, and elephant seals.
The public was outraged, then U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin took note.
Senator Nelson was equally outraged and wanted to capitalize on the anti-war movement and launched a "national teach-in on the environment," focusing on air and water pollution. He won bipartisan support and with his team, organized and promoted events across the country. And so began Earth Day.
In 1970, over 20 million people, in groups throughout the Unites States, rallied in protests against environmental destruction. The movement crossed party and demographic lines, and in time, led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Clean Air, the Clean Water, and the Endangered Species Acts.
By 1990, Earth Day had spread to 141 countries, leading to the first United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. In 1995, then President Bill Clinton awarded Gaylord Nelson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest citizen honor. And in 2000, Earth Day went cyber, using the Internet to relay the conservation message.
Today, there are over 5,000 earth conservation groups in 184 countries, but the conservation message has been diluted amid a powerful oil lobby, climate change deniers, and a seemingly disinterested public. We move forward in the name of progress, but at what cost?
Still, the groups persist and continue to spread the word and educate others on ways we affect the environment through our own choices and lifestyle and ways that we can conserve in our every day lives.
Want to know your own carbon footprint? Here's a calculator.
Now that you know your own carbon footprint, if you're not sure where to start in reducing that footprint beyond recycling, here are five ways you can make a difference.
1. In our efforts to recycle and re-purpose, we can use cloth napkins, replace plastic with glassware for food storage, and use reusable water bottles.
2. Start a garden with flowers and plants that attract bees and other pollinators and seek out organic and natural ways to keep pests at bay. Learn how here and here.
3. Support your local farms. Consider a share in community supported agriculture or frequent farmers' markets. Get to know the people growing your food. Ask questions. Become educated about the products they use. Check out Local Harvest for more information on farms and CSAs in your area.
4. Eating fish? Use Seafood Watch to find out which species to avoid, due to contamination and overfishing and alternatives to some of your favorites.
5. Vote with your dollars. Buy from brands that support your thinking. Be conscious of your choices and buy because of conviction, not convenience. And who knows? You may be surprised to find both.
- What is your home energy consumption? Conduct an energy audit. Find out how here.
- Is your home solar panel viable? Find out here.
- Reduce your meat consumption by eating one vegetarian meal per week. Check out Meatless Monday for recipes.
Do you reduce, reuse, or recycle? What are your favorite conservation methods?
*Earth Day history, courtesy of EarthDay.org.