Forty-five years ago, on April 22, 1970, an estimated 22 million people came out in force for the first ever Earth Day. It was the largest public demonstration in United States history and helped propel our nation into action. Early environmental laws were passed shortly after the first Earth Day. The EPA and OSHA were established the following year in a bipartisan effort between a Republican White House and a Democratically controlled Congress.
What was the impetus behind this movement? There were open and obvious environmental problems: polluted rivers, hazy air quality, and problems with hazardous waste. The measures enacted in the years after the first Earth Day had a major positive impact for all Americans. Our air is significantly cleaner, our water safer and rules now exist to provide some level of protection from environmental hazards – both at work and at home.
But the job isn’t done. The environmental issues we face today aren’t necessarily ones that can be seen looking out your window. Chemicals for instance; were you aware that thousands of chemicals in consumer goods remain untested to determine if they should be classified as toxins? The Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976 was passed without sufficient research or regulatory teeth – leaving thousands of chemicals in consumer goods unclassified.
The climate crisis, possibly the defining challenge of our time, must also be tackled. Overwhelming, world scientific consensus agrees that man-made climate change is happening. The insurance industry now even urges Americans to plan for the effects of climate change. 2014 was the hottest year in recorded global history. 13 of the 15 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2000. The impact of continued climate change will reach across a myriad of issues: water, food, energy sources and medical needs to name a few. World leaders will meet in December at an international summit aimed at reaching a framework to tackle climate change on a global scale.
Earth Day 2015 shouldn’t just be a kumbaya moment to plant a tree or have a picnic. We need to rise to the occasion. Challenge your elected officials to lead. Take the time and effort to make a difference yourself. Americans a generation ago made a difference that was real. We can do it again.