I remember the first Earth Day, in 1970. As a middle school student I was deeply impressed by the experience of riding around town in a pick-up truck with cool high school students, picking up piles and bales of roadside litter and trash, feeling empowered, fighting pollution! Ending up with sun-stroke, and feeling it was worth it.
We felt like we were part of a movement to save the Earth, and that we would succeed by picking up all the trash everywhere, and by spot-lighting and demonizing society’s pollution. The situation was grave, but we had it under control. There would be no more oil-smothered seagulls or seal pups, no more bird-killing chemicals like DDT, and people would stop littering.
Fifty-one years later, people are still littering of course, and lord knows there are a zillion new and worse threats to the Earth, but people are more devoted now than ever before to Earth Day!
They say that the first Earth Day remains the largest demonstration in human history, with 20 million participating. Last year on its 50th anniversary, although constrained by the pandemic, Earth Day had an estimated 100 million on-line participants around the world, and has been called the largest on-line mobilization ever. Now one billion people participate annually around the world in Earth Day events in a normal year.
This makes a strong case for believing that humanity shares a love for nature. Love of Nature is not “political,” it’s personal. We connect with Nature as small children, and carry that connection in our hearts our whole lives. Hunters, snow-mobilers, people who go boating, or spend time at camp, gardeners, picnickers, campers, fishing enthusiasts, bird-watchers, parents of young children, young children, old children, people who just sit around outside…Is there anyone who doesn’t connect with nature in some important way? Isn’t this why we see a universal outpouring of passion every Earth Day?
We lost one of Maine’s biggest Nature champions, Mount Vernon resident George Smith, when he died in February. George was for 18 years the Director of the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine, a group that probably doesn’t generally identify as liberal. But as an ardent sportsman, George was a passionate and tireless advocate for protecting the natural world of Maine, writing and testifying and supporting countless conservation efforts. He was known for his good humor and ability to get along with all kinds of people, especially through a shared appreciation of the importance of the environment.
He encouraged others to defend Nature through civic participation at every level, including things like urging the readers of his Bangor Daily News column to contact Congress about supporting a carbon-fee-and-dividend approach to cut greenhouse gas emissions, “because we must solve this problem for our children and grandchildren. If we fail to do this, they are the ones who will suffer.” Who knows how much difference this one individual made for Maine’s environment, and even the world?
It’s time we take George Smith’s example, shake hands, share a fish story or a beer, and acknowledge this shared value we have. And take action. Every one of us has a personal stake in the health of the environment, and can act on behalf of Nature in whatever way we feel has the most impact. Working together our personal impact can go as far as we can imagine.
The soul of Earth Day was and is the communities and crowds and parents and teachers and children and grandparents and organizations everywhere showing up every year for Earth Day events of all kinds, most of them nowadays aimed chiefly at addressing the climate challenge. Can we take it a step further this year?
For Earth Day 2021 and all those of the future, let’s do this. Together.
Cynthia Stancioff lives and looks for mushrooms in Chesterville. She co-authors a column called Energy Matters with husband Paul, and volunteers with the Citizens Climate Lobby.