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Today Is Earth Day – Does Anyone Care?

By James Donahue

Environmental activists began marking "Earth Day" in the United States and increasingly around the world for the past 43 years. But unlike the other so-called holidays, this one usually slips past with very little notice.

Sure, some newspaper editors note the day and school children often go on special trips to plant trees to mark the occasion. But this day, which deserves more attention than all of the religious holidays we celebrate, has been largely ignored.

While Earth Day is officially set for April 22 on our calendars, it didn’t begin that way. The late California newspaper editor and peace activist John McConnell dreamed up the idea after he was inspired by the first space image of Earth that appeared in Life Magazine. He persuaded the San Francisco City Council to establish the very first Earth Day on March 21, 1970.

McConnell also designed the official Earth Day flag, which is still flown by the true advocates of the special day.

McConnell’s concern for the environment obviously grew out of the environmental movement that was born among the youth movements of the late 1950s and 1960s. He began his crusade to launch a world-wide recognition of Earth Day in October, 1969, when he attended the National UNESCO Conference held in San Francisco. There he proposed a global holiday to celebrate the planet’s life and beauty and to advance world peace, and make people aware of the need to preserve and protect threatened ecological balances even then threatening all life on Earth. His proclamation was adopted by the United Nations and signed by 36 world leaders.

Since then Earth Day is celebrated around the world on the spring equinox by the ringing of peace bells. A UN Peace Bell also is rung that day at the United Nations building in New York.

So why is Earth Day now marked to occur on April 22 instead of March 21 or on the spring equinox? This is largely because of the work of the late Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson who also promoted Earth Day observances in the United States and called for a national celebration in the United States to occur one month after the date proposed by McConnell.

Nelson, who also was an environmental activist, began promoting the idea of a national "teach-in" about the damage being done to the world ecology after observing the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969. Because of his position as a U. S. Senator, Nelson was able to promote that first "official" April 22 Earth Day in 1970. The idea spread and two thousands colleges and universities and about 10,000 primary and secondary schools and hundreds of communities in the United States participated.

The result of those first years of environmental activism brought about Congressional passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the Endangered Species Act and creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

America was clearly off to a good start in those years. What has happened since?

After a few years of being forced to clean up their carbon emissions from coal burning furnaces, automobile exhaust pipes, and stop dumping toxic waste into the nation’s lakes and streams, big industry began fighting back.

The big corporations joined forces and began spending heavily on lobbying efforts in Washington. The counter movement has now brought about an almost complete reversal of the controls set by the Environmental Protection Agency. National leaders are literally ignoring environmental issues, refusing to acknowledge global warming and climate change as real global issues, and the principles sought by the founders of Earth Day are all but ignored.

The march of deadly storms across the nation for the past year or longer, the extreme drought that has struck the midsection of our farming belt, the harsh hurricanes and cyclones that are ravaging the coasts, the rising sea levels from melting ice caps and glaciers apparently are not waking anybody up.

As long as big money remains the god of the people, Earth Day seems to be a lost and forgotten effort. And this is really sad.