Earth Day has been celebrated on April 22 for 45 years. Here is a short account of the history of the day:
The idea came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media; persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair; and recruited Denis Hayes as national coordinator. Hayes built a national staff of 85 to promote events across the land.
As a result, on the 22nd of April, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.
As we await Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Earth Day offers us an opportunity to examine our relationship to the gift of creation. To consider the extent to which our own actions (and inactions) contribute to the preservation or deterioration of the environment.
It is true that lots of the problems that brought people to the streets in 1990 are bigger than any one individual – corporate pollution and oil spills. But both through our power as consumers (from whom are you buying your products?) and in our homes and workplaces (are you recycling as much as you can? reducing waste in the first place? saving water and electricity?) we can make a difference.
And, as stewards over God’s creation, we are morally obliged to do so.
You can find a good ecological examen here.