By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
I’m old enough to remember April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day. My memories of that day aren’t particularly strong – certainly not compared to other days that year: January 24, when my brother, my youngest sibling, was born, and May 4, the day of the shootings at Kent State, where my cousin was finishing her first year of studies.
The preceding autumn, my parents moved our family to Allamuchy, New Jersey, a small farming community. My father continued to teach (and coach) at a local high school. We lived down a 1200 foot lane off of Shades of Death Road, on a 12 1/2 acre farm, the corner of which was clipped by a highway that became US Interstate 80. Really the back of beyond – or as close as one could come and still be in the state of New Jersey.
My principal memory of the original Earth Day was watching a TV program about water pollution. Lots of film clips about foaming water – caused by phosphate detergents, IIRC. Memory’s a bit hazy – not altogether surprising, as I was only eight years old at the time.
Reading a bit about the history of Earth Day for this post, I learned that a speech Senator Gaylord Nelson delivered in September 1969 ultimately led to the first Earth Day the following spring, organized as a teach-in at Berkeley. Teach-ins sprung up during the latter part of the 1960s as a form of protest against the Vietnam War.
At least 20 million people participated in nationwide activities on the first Earth Day, and these were not limited to college campuses. Congress adjourned for the day.
Today, Earth Day Network – which coordinates global Earth Day activities – estimates one billion people in 192 countries around the globe will join in what it calls “the largest civic-focused day of action in the world.”
The world of the 1970s was very different from the one we live in today. For one thing, protecting the environment wasn’t an enterprise largely limited to any particular political party (nd rather imperfectly at that).
But other aspects of that world we’d recognize. Government by executive order, for example, is far from a new phenomenon. In July 1970, President Richard Nixon, a Republican, created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in his Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970. Several functions previously carried out by other agencies would be moved to the EPA. Supportive committee hearings in both House and Senate followed.
From the plan:
With its broad mandate, EPA would also develop competence in areas of environmental protection that have not previously been given enough attention, such, for example, as the problem of noise, and it would provide an organization to which new programs in these areas could be added.
Imagine that. A Republican president, via executive order, creating a plan to protect the environment. And this didn’t happen that very long ago, nor even in a galaxy far, far away, but in these United States, and during my lifetime.
Shortly thereafter, the Clean Water Act (1972) and the Endangered Species Act (1973) followed. Executive orders weren’t a substitute for legislation, and Congress and the President could- and did – produce legislation, even at a time when the country was deeply divided and riven by protests over the Vietnam War.
By contrast to these bygone days when factions in both parties supported environmental protection, the Trump administration’s principal environmental priority has instead been to ease operating conditions for the fossil fuel industry (see here).
Yet that anti-environmental agenda has not gone unchallenged. As I posted yesterday here, judicial decisions have rolled back, delayed, or suspended more than 40 of Trump’s environmental initiatives. Representative Alexandra Ocasio Cortez and Senator Ed Markey have introduced a Green New Deal resolution (see Lambert’s post, here ). To be sure, the Democratic Party is divided on the issue of the Green New Deal (see here on the Anti-Green New Deal coalition).
Cities and states are also pursuing their own initiatives – with New York City passing its own Green New Deal plan last week (see here).
Although this post largely concerns the US, efforts to protect the environment – and especially, address climate change – are being undertaken today worldwide. In London, more than 950 people haven been arrested in a series of climate change demonstrations organized by Extinction Rebellion, according to the BBC.
This Year’s Theme: Protect Our Species
The theme of Earth Day 2019: Protect Our Species. On that score, we’re not doing a very good job, to say the least. Many creatures – bees, insects, whales, birds, sea turtles, sharks, fish, to name just some – have seen a collapse in their populations, along with more general destruction of coral reefs, plants, and trees.
Last year’s theme was End Plastic Pollution. And as regular readers know, I’ve posted often on the problems plastics pollutions pose – occasionally offering suggests of what could – and should – be done.
What Is to Be Done?
Now, as individuals, we’re limited in how much we can achieve on big issues like saving the earth. Governments must step in to protect the environment.
I’m gratified to see younger people, such as Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, trying to do something about the catastrophes that confront the planet. Too little, too late? Perhaps.
But there’s something to be said to sparing some thoughts as to what one can do to lessen the burdens we impose on the earth.
So, at the risk of being accused of indulging in mere virtue signalling, here are a few suggestions.
The UN has tweeted a list of steps one can take to reduce use of plastics. I think far more comprehensive changes are needed in how we create and use plastics. The aim should be to reserve them for applications where there is no good alternative, rather than continuing mindlessly to pollute the planet with unnecessary single-use packaging and countless water bottles. I’m terrified by the ubiquity of microplastics, and relying on the recycling fairy to get us out of this mess is a non-starter.
Reducing the use of plastics would help protect species such as birds, fish, whales, and sea turtles, which die when they ingest plastics. It would also reduce pressures on coral reefs (see here).
But for those new to the plastics party, some of these suggestions are worth following.
Trillions of microplastic particles are already in our oceans.
— United Nations (@UN) April 22, 2019
The WWF has produced a 30-day Earth Day challenge and again, I find little to quibble with here:
When we come together, the impact can be monumental. Commit to earth-friendly acts by taking part in our month-long #EarthDay challenge. #Connect2Earth. https://t.co/3diXsJViw7 pic.twitter.com/TpBuwq42OD
— WWF 🐼 (@WWF) April 22, 2019
One other point about protecting species: the size of both bee and insect populations have plummeted. There are many members of the NC community who know far more about promoting pollinators than I do – so I hope they’ll pop up with some Earth Day suggestions in comments.
If you have a yard, plant a tree, or pollinator-friendly plants. If you don’t, perhaps there’s room for containers, or window boxes?
Happy Earth Day 2019!