April 22 will mark the 41st anniversary of Earth Day, but does it still have the same effect it did in the 70s? We asked the biggest names in the environmental industry to answer the question, “Is Earth Day Dead?”
President of the Natural Resources Defense Council
Earth Day continues to play a vital role in nurturing environmental stewardship in America. Every year it brings people together at recycling centers, community gardens and rallies in support of new safeguards. But it also does something else: It provides a touchstone to see how far we have come in restoring the Earth and how we can best protect it for the future.
I was in college when the first Earth Day took place in 1970, and I still remember the dirty air that hung over cities back then. Raw sewage floated in the New York Harbor, and rivers had become dumping grounds for industrial toxins. The organizers of Earth Day broke through this haze with a surge of optimism. Sure the planet was a mess, they said, but a group of dedicated people can turn it around.
They were right. The environmental movement that grew out of the first Earth Day—including NRDC which opened that same year—succeeded in securing the bedrock laws that have made our air safer, our water cleaner and our landscapes better protected.
Earth Day events give us a chance to celebrate that progress, but also to roll up our sleeves and start solving today’s problems. The planet is facing more sweeping challenges than ever before: things like climate change, ocean degradation, and the prevalence of toxins in our food and household products. Such complex forces will be hard to reverse. But the optimism of that original Earth Day still holds true: with enough passion and commitment, we can turn it around.
I know that passion exists. Earth Day is not the only day Americans think about the planet, anymore than Valentine’s Day is the only day we proclaim our love. People from all walks of life have embraced green solutions, and environmental stewardship has become more pervasive than even the Earth Day founders could have imagined.
As Earth Day approaches this year, I urge you to think about the environmental actions you take in your everyday life—switching to energy efficient light bulbs, using public transit more often, eating less meat or fish—and take it to the next level. I also encourage you to write to your elected officials in support of the environmental policies that matter most to you. Positive, solutions-oriented actions like these confirm that the spirit of Earth Day endures.
More on Frances: Frances Beinecke, who served on President Obama’s National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a non-profit environmental organization with 1.3 million members and activists across the United States.