Fifty Years After Earth Day
Happy Earth Day!
It’s great to be alive and be on Mother Earth! Today, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. Fifty years of special recognition has certainly helped people everywhere think about our planet and how we fit in. I barely remember the first Earth Day and have become increasingly more aware that everyday is Earth Day. We cannot just take a moment on one day to make positive changes and expect to absolve ourselves of the everyday impact on our home.
I remember the air pollution and water pollution from fifty years ago, but I was not yet aware of the chemical contamination and human exposures that would take up a large part of my professional career. I remember crossing a stream in Churchill, PA outside Pittsburgh in second grade and being appalled by the strong smell of sewage. The following year I remember driving into town with my father and the smoke from the steel mills was like a fog across the road. (My father is a chemical engineer who worked at Westinghouse in Churchill on nuclear reactors then moved to Mobay Chemical Company near the airport where he helped develop polycarbonate).
I spent the summers of my youth at Deep Creek Lake. The water was so clear and seemed so clean. Of course it took me years to understand where the name Cherry Creek came from: Acid mine drainage. But that experience, and falling in the Charles River in Cambridge during a clean-up there in 1969, helped instill in me a deep affinity for clean water. I went to Penn State and studied Environmental Resources Management in the Forestry School. We learned so much about pollution, its sources, and the bold new environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and others. We took field trips to contaminated sites, to nuclear reactors, and mines to see the work and learn about the sources of pollution. I wanted to operate a sewage treatment plant to clean the waters but never did; instead I worked for environmental and engineering consulting firms. I conducted compliance inspections for the EPA. I remember collecting water samples at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing near the Tidal Basin. The wastewater was literally the color of money.
On this 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, let’s reinvigorate our commitment to a healthy and sustainable planet for our children and their children! Let’s consider what Earth Day in 2120 will be like. Clean air and clean water are a right for all on the planet. In this “Land of the Free,” let’s be “free from pollution.”
While you are doing your part to protect the health of our species by staying home, consider what changes you can make to protect the health of our planet:
- Reduce, reuse, recycle, refuse: While stores and restaurants are closed, more people are having items shipped and delivered to their homes, which means more single use packaging. Support local restaurants by ordering takeout, but ask them to skip the straws and plastic utensils. When you go to the grocery store, bring your own reusable bags and bag your own groceries. This is good for the environment, good for you, and good for essential workers!
- Reduce your carbon footprint by eating less meat. Even a small change, like celebrating Meatless Mondays, can add up to a big difference.
- Pick up trash in your neighborhood during your socially distanced walk.
- To support science-based policy, clean water, and funding for environmental projects, write a letter, call your representatives, and donate to environmentally progressive candidates and environmental organizations.
Happy Earth Day to all!