April 6, 2016

By Kathleen Mannard

Did you know Earth Day is in a couple weeks? In all honesty, I didn’t know. In fact, I don’t think I have ever genuinely seen public recognition for Earth Day, and yet every year on April 22nd we nationally celebrate the earth and environmental protection with a holiday. Naively I discovered that 1 billion people in the world commemorate and participate in Earth Day! I feel as though that at this time in my life, with such great concern and admiration for the environment and all who fight for its survival, I should actively celebrate environmental reform for all the good done and to be done.

The first Earth Day in 1970 marked the peaceful demonstration of over 22 million people supporting the mission of clean air, water, and land and environmental reform. I hope to do the same for future reforms. But how did the institution of Earth Day reform United States environment and what does it mean today?

The early 1970s marked a period of legislative reform for the environment when conservation became a focus of political dialogue. For decades, factories lacked restriction of environmental regulations, resulting with toxins released into the air or dumped into bodies of water without consideration of affects on public health. The peaceful demonstration on April 22, 1970 against such hazardous pollution showed politicians the overwhelming concern and support by the public for the environment. Following the demonstration, the United States government established the groundbreaking Environmental Protection Agency along with the enactment of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act. The agency and acts not only restricted high-pollution industries but also supported the creation of protection and preventative reforms for ecosystems, wildlife, in the United States and the world.

After 46 years, what impact does Earth Day leave today? Earthday.org hopes to make the big things happen, to create the greatest impacts since 1970. Their mission ideas include planting 7.8 billion trees, divesting from fossil fuels, making cities 100% renewable, and building upon the momentum of the historic Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. I believe we are in a time where those goals are attainable. This Earth Day in 2016, President Obama and President Jinping of China will officially sign the Paris agreement while encouraging other nations to do so. The Paris agreement calls for the highest emission countries to work together in reducing greenhouse emissions and the rate of climate change. The United States and China are the two countries with the greatest emission rates of greenhouse gases and this bilateral relationship will not only create a harmonious union but also influence other nations to follow in their footsteps.

Although so much of environmental reform is tied to legislation, Earth Day began with average citizens asking for a change. Earth Day is not only for the politicians and activists. Appreciating the world we have is the first action to take. Making a difference and celebrating our Earth should be an every day activity but remember those who asked for change in 1970 and continue the mission this Earth Day while historic steps are taken.