It was 1970. The war was raging in Vietnam. Air pollution was ubiquitous and to many - even in Buffalo - it still smelled like prosperity. The word environment was more likely to be heard in a spelling bee than on the evening news. I had just graduated from Mount St. Joseph Academy and was thrilled to be at UB. And the modern environmental movement was born.
The stage had been set by a book published in 1962. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson sold more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries. I have read it at least half a dozen times over the past 50 years. We finally began to see the planet as a living organism, a single interconnected eco-system, and we finally made the connection between pollution and public health.
The first Earth Day in 1970 was intended to be a “national teach-in on the environment.” But thanks to Rachel, the stars were aligned. On April 22,1970, 20 million Americans (really!) took to the streets in massive coast-to-coast rallies to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. It was amazing! I will never forget that day at UB. The campus (there was only one back then) was awash in signs and students and sense of hope in the midst of endless protest. It felt good to be for something for a change.
A raft of rare political alignments had occurred. Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders...all had discovered a cause they could agree on. By the end of 1970, the EPA had been created and the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts had all been passed.
Two decades later, Earth Day went global. In 1990, 200 million people in 141 countries mobilized and environmental issues exploded on the world stage. The United Nations Earth Summit took place in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. And the momentum kept building. By the time the new millenium dawned, there were 5,000 environmental groups in 184 countries reaching out to hundreds of millions of people. And the Internet had changed the world forever.
Activists were better able to organize, a drum chain traveled from village to village in Gabon, Africa, hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Leaders heard the message loud and clear: citizens around the world wanted quick and decisive action on global warming and clean energy.
By 2010, however, climate change deniers, well-funded oil lobbyists, reticent politicians, a disinterested public, and a divided environmental community had created a narrative of cynicism rather than activism. But Earth Day prevailed and 250,000 people showed up on the National Mall for a Climate Rally. A Billion Acts of Green®, the world’s largest environmental service project, introduced a global tree planting initiative that has since grown into The Canopy Project. In Buffalo, we call it Re-Tree and thank Paul Maurer for his tireless efforts.
Earth Day is now the largest secular observance in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year. April 22 is a day of action that changes our behavior and provokes policy changes. And, as polar ice caps melt, sea levels rise, and global warming advances unchecked, action and preserving policies that protect our planet are even more critical today than they were in 1970.
How are you going to honor the planet on Earth Day? Here are just a few Buffalo options:
March for Science from 1:00 to 3:00pm. Start at Soldier’s Circle and end at Delaware Park near the Rose Garden where a science festival will take place. The Buffalo march will take place at the same time as the Scientists’ March on Washington, D.C. and in othercities across the U.S.
Volunteer to plant more than 130 shade and ornamental “sidewalk” trees at the Re-Tree WNY/Buffalo Green Fund city-wide tree planting event from 9:00am-2:00pm.
Be among the more than 1,500 volunteers participating in the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper Spring Shoreline Sweep at 40 locations between 10:00am-Noon, To volunteer call: 716-852-7483, ext. 26.
Help clean up Elmwood Village between Forest and Auburn from 10:00am-1:00pm. Online sign-up here.
Or get out in your garden, hop on your bike instead of driving your car, or take a thoughtful walk through some of Buffalo's green spaces. Tifft, Times Beach and Reinstein Woods Nature Preserves beckon.