This post is originally from Earth Day 2014.
Today is Earth Day! Quick history lesson: Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day in 1970 after a decade of that spurred environmental action. This time in America was just after the rise and fall of the use of DDT and after the publication of Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring.” This was the first time that people who weren’t scientists or hippies paying attention to the environment. On April 22, 1970 people celebrated the Earth and their desire for a healthy and strong environment; rallies and demonstrations took place across the country. It wasn’t until 1990 that the holiday became a global event.
Celebrations for Earth Day vary from planting trees to enjoying a walk outside to reading Aldo Leopold’s “Sand County Almanac.” Aldo Leopold was the father behind conservation and is most famous for his “land ethic.” The land ethic is about protecting the health of the land through developing and building relationships between people and nature. The “land ethic” is about the entire community in ecosystems so plants, animals, people, soil, air, water or anything that interacts with each other. There is a mutual respect for everything in that community; this is Leopold’s vision for the “land ethic”.
The best way to celebrate Earth Day, in my opinion, is to appreciate the environment and nature. Instead of thinking about all the problems and complicated issues I’ve touched on in my other articles, focus on how it smells outside or how it’s finally spring and the buds are coming out. (Unless you live way north in which case I wish a speedy melting of your last snowfall). That for today we celebrate how great of a day it is, celebrating the little things. We could pay more attention to the song of the birds or make a meal from the freshest, most local food we could find. Appreciating the environment.
In Madison, Wisconsin I celebrated Earth Day by first, wearing green- how easy. My student organization, REthink Wisconsin, partnered with our University Bookstore for their “Hug a Tree for Charity” event. For everyone that hugged a tree the bookstore agreed to donate $1 to REthink. We successfully raised $300. I found it funny that people responded “no” to the question “Do you have time to hug a tree?” while looking down at their phones. Maybe just for today people could look up and enjoy nature instead of down at their phones.
As Nelson once said, “the wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats and biodiversity… that’s all there is. That’s the whole economy. That’s where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world.” On Earth Day instead of focusing on the material items you don’t have or what you want, look at the nonmaterial ‘wealth’ that we do have all around us.
I also volunteered at an Earth Day Conference at the Monona Terrace located just off the Capital Square in Madison. The theme of the conference was “Ecology, Economy and Justice in a Rapidly Changing World.” I helped run a breakout session about Phosphorus and what projects were being done around the state to help prevent phosphorus runoff from entering the lakes around Madison. For those that travel to Madison during the summer, especially in the last few years, know that the lakes turn this brown or greenish color depending on the amount of rainfall that brings phosphorus from farmland, residential neighborhoods, cities etc. One of these projects is sponsored by the Clean Lake Alliance. They facilitate relationships between farmers who encourage other farmers to take actions on their properties to help control phosphorus runoff. This type of responsibility is inspiring and applies to many parts of sustainability.
Whether you’re at a conference, in an office all-day or running around doing errands. Take part of today to get outside or do something for nature. Maybe today isn’t the day. Set aside your own Earth Day. Maybe that’s one time or once a month to just appreciate how exciting and fascinating nature can be. We sometimes take these sites, sounds and smells for granted but today, on Earth Day, we take time to take a closer look and realize how special nature is and that it truly does deserve to be respected and protected. Happy Earth Day!