Earth Day Celebrates 50 years!
It is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day – what lessons will we learn from the COVID-19 crisis?
By Becky FreeApril 21, 2020
April 22, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day – an event that gave birth to the movement to reduce our impact on the Earth. In 1970, nearly 20 million Americans participated in protests and actions demanding our elected leaders address environmental threats like oil spills, air pollution, lead contamination, extinction of wildlife and the loss of wilderness. People acted in their communities by organizing cleanups, tree plantings, and demonstrations.
Did you know that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is also celebrating 50 years on April 22nd? New Jersey was the third state in the nation to establish an agency to manage its natural resources and work on pollution issues and it did so on April 22, 1970. This unified agency is focused on protecting the environment and public health and creating sustainable communities throughout the state. You can learn more about the NJ Department of Environmental Protection here.
Environmental protection efforts during this time were very much a bipartisan effort. Support on both sides of the aisle in Washington D.C. led to the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. A few years after the first Earth Day we saw the passage of landmark legislation like the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. In 1978 the National Parks and Recreation Act included language that created New Jersey’s Pinelands National Reserve, our country’s first National Reserve.
In recent years there has been a big push to weaken some of our country’s most fundamental environmental protections. Thankfully, there are citizens, scientists, organizations, and leaders who are working hard to make sure that does not happen.
These are strange times. The coronavirus has dramatically changed the way we live our lives. Across the planet, there are reports of notable reductions in pollutants like nitrogen dioxide. The smog in Los Angeles has lifted giving way to blue skies and some cities are reporting their best air quality readings in 40 years. New Jersey is having a similar experience. NASA scientists have reported a nearly 30% reduction in air pollution over the northeastern United States.
There is no question we need to get back to work, back to school, and back to our daily lives. As the world begins to recover from the impacts of COVID-19 what choices will we make? I wonder if the impact of cleaner air around the world will drive people to support regulations that do a better job of protecting our health and our environment.
This continues to be such a painful process for people worldwide. What will science tell us about the environmental changes that took place during this global crisis? It would be a travesty if we did not act on what we learn to improve the environment.
There are many things you can do to celebrate Earth Day despite these difficult circumstances. Try to do things that reduce your impact on the planet like bringing your own bags to the grocery store or turning the water off when you brush your teeth. Call your representatives and let them know just how important protecting the environment is to you, and why. Here are some more great things you can do to celebrate Earth Day this week organized by Pinelands Preservation Alliance:
- Rain Garden Webinar on April 22: Learn how to build a rain garden in your own backyard.
- Watch Party for the film Pinelands National Reserve – Wilderness Remains on April 24th
- Online Adventures with Pinelands Adventures
- Donate to the Pinelands Preservation Alliance or any of your favorite environmental groups!
- Take Action from a safe social distance – here is how.
Being separated from friends and family, and not being able to get out and enjoy the outdoors reminds me of why so many of us choose to take up the gauntlet and fight to protect the environment in the first place—so that we may share these places that bring us peace, health, and beauty, for years to come. You can learn more about the history of Earth Day here https://www.earthday.org/history/.