This weekend my granddaughter reminded me that it’s Earth Week, with Friday being Earth Day. She said it so nonchalantly as if the holiday has always existed but it caused me to pause and reflect for a moment on the time before Earth Day and how far we’ve come.
Almost 40 years ago the crew of Apollo 8 took a picture of earth as they orbited the moon in preparation for the first lunar landing mission. And for the first time, Earth was revealed as a blue jewel against the vastness of space and in contrast with the barren lunar surface. Our planet suddenly became not just fields, forests, oceans and mountains: It was a complete global entity. And the greatest change in our sense of the world since Columbus sailed for the Indies and didn’t fall off the edge of the watery void.
At the same time, works such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth (1968) by R. Buckminster Fuller brought the need for conservation efforts to greater public attention than ever before. President Nixon was persuaded to establish the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which both consolidated several smaller agencies and strengthened the aspects of oversight and penalties for infractions.
Since then, I imagine, all of us have become aware of many different aspects of conservation efforts, such as the well-known EPA motto: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. I am also reminded of some of the more tragic events such as the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown, New York’s Love Canal toxic waste site, the Academy Award winning film Erin Brockovich, and the ongoing debates over fracking.
So where are we today? More aware, yes. Better off, certainly, in areas such as lead paint and asbestos abatement, though the Flint, Michigan, water situation reminds us there is still work to be done. And what do we do with plastic? It’s everywhere and will be with us, in our landfills and oceans, for thousands of years to come. So what do we do?
We do what we can. I take my reusable bags to the grocery store. I buy the most environmentally friendly detergents I can and hope they clean okay. We drive a hybrid car. My church has solar panels. A local sustainable farm cooperative provides us with wonderful vegetables. I am not tempted to acquire new stuff when the old stuff still works. And I fervently hope that my children and their children will find new ways to help our planet thrive. The Earth Day saying, “Think Globally, Act Locally” still applies 46 years later.