Earth Day, the world’s largest secular holiday and only event celebrated by more than a half billion people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities is sponsored by many national and international organizations with outreach programs showcasing the positive contributions that environmental science makes to improve the health of our planet and its citizens.
In 1969. anti–Vietnam War demonstrations convinced Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D–Wisconsin) and Rep. Pete McCloskey (R– California) to organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment, leading them to found the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, 48 years ago. In today’s insidious hyper-partisan atmosphere, such bipartisan agreement on anything would be impossible. Nelson hoped that a grassroots outcry about environmental issues might prove to Washington, D.C., just how distressed Americans were in every constituency. Denis Hayes was the principal organizer of the first Earth Day nationwide.
The first Earth Day marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. Hayes and his staff organized 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, power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values. President Richard M. Nixon (a Republican!) helped to amend the Clean Air Act of 1970, which has drastically improved our air quality.
Earth Day Network (EDN) was founded by Hayes and the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970 and by other national organizers to promote environmental activism and year-round progressive action, domestically and internationally. EDN members include NGOs, quasi-governmental agencies, local governments, activists and others. They focus on environmental education; local, national and global policies; public environmental campaigns; and organizing national and local Earth Day events to promote activism and environmental protection.
The international network has reached more than 19,000 organizations in 192 countries, whereas the domestic program has engaged 10,000 groups and more than 100,000 educators coordinating millions of community development and environmental protection activities.
In his official proclamation, Mayor Lee Brand cited the following reasons for declaring April 22, 2018, Earth Day in the City of Fresno:
Earth Day, begun as an annual event on April 22, 1970, focused public attention on pollution and environmental concerns and made the hitherto esoteric term “ecology” a household word; and
Many national organizations are celebrating it with outreach programs showcasing the positive contributions that environmental science makes to improve the health of our planet and its citizens; and
Many Earth Day community-sponsored events promoting environmental awareness and education are held to communicate with a wide audience in the San Joaquin Valley; and
Improving the Valley’s air and water quality is an urgent necessity.
Among the numerous organizations sponsoring Earth Day activities, the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific organization, observes Earth Day with a program emphasizing the positive contributions that chemistry makes to our environment and the health of our planet.
Chemistry contributes to a sustainable earth by recognizing and quantifying environmental pollution and by developing environmentally friendly products and processes such as recyclable plastics, cleaner-burning fuels, phosphate-free detergents and environmental monitoring.
The ACS joined the Earth Day celebration on April 22, 2003, and since then it has sponsored annual Chemists Celebrate Earth Day (CEED) events that seek to bring international focus to environmental causes such as clean air, water and energy.
During the past few years, we’ve seen increased concern over solar energy, air, water, global warming, climate change, environment, alternative energy, oil, carbon or carbon dioxide, ice caps, polar bears, ozone, smog, greenhouse gas emissions, recycling, waste management, biomass conversion, biofuels, ecology and other areas too numerous to mention. We’ve finally reached a tipping point worldwide on the media’s and public’s recognition of the environment and our role in preserving it. It’s about time!
Nevertheless, as progressives, we mustn’t content ourselves with relying only on the efforts of those who have already embraced environmentalism— of “preaching to the choir,” so to speak. We must reach out to convert others to our point of view.
ExxonMobil, General Electric, Toyota, Schlumberger and other disbelievers in global climate change, which for years have lobbied against tougher limits on air pollution, climbed on the bandwagon and tried to “greenwash” their former anti-environmental reputations.
Despite its role in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest in the history of the petroleum industry, in the Gulf of Mexico, British Petroleum has the audacity to tout itself as “Beyond Petroleum.” The environmental disaster occurred on April 20 until it was finally capped on July 15, 2010, but, let’s face it, the public has a short memory.
The George W. Bush administration, while spinning a web of pro-environment propaganda, rolled back three decades of bipartisan environmental protections in its efforts to benefit its corporate clients in the oil, gas, coal and other industries at the expense of a clean, healthy and safe environment. On a wide range of issues, for example, global warming, childhood lead poisoning, mercury emissions, climate change, reproductive health, nuclear weapons, energy policy and Arctic drilling, the Bush administration distorted and censored scientific findings that contradicted its policies.
In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama promised to “restore science to its rightful place.” Federal courts have repealed most of the Bush administration’s clean air regulations, driven by politics not science. But the Republican resurgence doesn’t augur well for the future.
Donald Trump’s inconsistent and idiotic actions in office as well as his extensive contacts with Wall Street and the military leave us with little hope for the environment.
However, if Earth Day raises consciousness as to our obligations to the planet, results in a balanced view of our responsibilities to the fragile ecosystem and makes us aware of the crucial importance of governmental policies on the environment, it cannot but help to have a positive effect.
George B. Kauffman, Ph.D., chemistry professor emeritus at Fresno State and a Guggenheim Fellow, is a recipient of the American Chemical Society’s George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, the Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach and the Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, and numerous domestic and international honors. In 2002 and 2011, he was appointed a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society, respectively.