Two hands holding planet earth on top of a green grass lawn.

Earth Day: Its History And Why It Matters Now More Than Ever

April 22 is Earth Day 2017. Today, celebrations are taking place around the world in the name of Mother Earth, including concerts, street festivals, park and community clean-up campaigns, as well as Earth Day education programs, like Street Tree Identification for Beginners in Brooklyn, New York. In Toronto, Canada, Henderson Brewing Co. is combining Earth Day with Record Store Day, by throwing an Earth Day block party, which they’ll kick off with a clean-up. Nature walks are also on the agenda, like those offered today by Nurragingy Reserve in Syndey, Australia, where four nature experts will also give tips on how to attract frogs and birds to your garden.

But this year’s Earth Day marks another important event: The March for Science. According to the March for Science mission statement explains it.

“The March for Science is a celebration of science. It’s not only about scientists and politicians; it is about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.”

They go on to say the time for staying silent is over, in fact, it is “a luxury we can no longer afford.” Today, scientists and those who support and value the importance of science and scientific research will make their voices heard.

But why do we celebrate Earth Day? What is the history of this national day and why does it matter?

Why Earth Day was founded

Indian school children participating in a rally depicting slogans of conservation of earth on the world earth day at Chandra Shekhar Azad Park in Allahabad, India, Saturday, April 22, 2017.
Earth Day is celebrated all over the world. [Image by Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP Images]

In the 1960s and before, environmental awareness was basically nonexistent in the United States. Air pollution and environmental disasters, such as oil spills, were seen as just another, unavoidable part of progress.

As a result, the public didn’t reflect on the negative impact our actions had on the environment and what this meant for us. Rachel Carson’s 1962 bestselling book, Silent Spring, was a watershed moment in the history of environmental awareness. In her book, Carson enlightened the public about the links between pollution and many health problems and inspired them to show more concern for living creatures.

In the decade of Silent Spring, a grassroots environmental movement was born. The idea for a national day to focus on environmental concerns came from Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, who founded the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. On this day, 20 million Americans took to the streets to protest widespread deterioration of the environment, including unsafe pesticides, toxic waste dumping, pollution from factories and industry, wildlife endangerment and extinction, and many other related concerns.

According to the Earth Day website, earthday.org, the day unites everyone.

“Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders.”

The initial Earth Day protests reminded people why they were fighting and united them with a common cause. And it paid off. By the end of 1970, the United States Environmental Protection Agency was created, leading to the passage of both the Endangered Species, Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

Why Earth Day matters today more than ever

The Trump administration plans to gut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The president’s budget proposal outlines will do away with many programs that deal with reducing and cleaning up pollution, climate change, and energy efficiency. These policies come at a time when, according to an intergovernmental panel on climate change, “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”

With fewer restrictions, the air and pollution levels in the United States will rise, leading to an increase in health problems and an additional strain on the environment. But the threat of global warming is not just a problem for the United States: has dire consequences for all of us.

Dried out lake with cracked mud and trees and grass in the distance.
Global warming results in many extreme weather events, like drought. [Image by Anawach Tai/Shutterstock]

The consequences for our planet include rising global temperatures, which lead to shrinking ice sheets and glaciers. Sea levels are rising and extreme weather conditions are becoming more severe and commonplace. Unless we make a dramatic change soon, things are going to get a lot worse.

According to scientists, the world must hit zero carbon emissions well before 2040, otherwise, global warming will spiral out of control. However, Trump’s proposed policies would do nothing of the sort.

Why does Earth Day matter? Because we only have one planet.

On April 22, 1970, people raised their voices, and their voices were heard. Let’s hope Earth Day 2017 and the March for Science can do the same—before it’s too late.

[Featured Image by Tokkeyneo/Shutterstock]

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