Earth Day at 50

By Al Johnson and Barbara Drew, Co-chairs, Earth Ministry Team

 “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” John Muir, reflective of our UU 7th Principle  

April 22, 2020 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. Most of us won’t remember precisely where we were that day or didn’t even hear about it. I don’t remember that specific day, but I do remember the first time I participated in an Earth Day event, which was a glass recycling collection. We gathered in a church parking lot and instead of current practices of carefully placing breakables in our recycling bin, we got to smash the glass. I had so much doing that!

We have come a long way, and unfortunately, there have also been numerous setbacks especially in recent years.  Prior to the first Earth Day, there was a momentum of awareness of environmental issues and appreciation for nature. Rachel Carson, a Pennsylvania native, published Silent Spring in 1962, and that was a huge catalyst for change and awareness especially with respect to chemical contamination. Cataclysmic events such as the 1966 documentation of the health effects of lead in gasoline, including brain damage in children, and then the first major oil tanker disaster in 1967, which all led up to various groups developing a campaign to protect “mother nature,” our future and our health.   

From that first Earth Day in 1970, which drew millions of people rallying and demanding action, came numerous landmark laws and actions. Here is a very condensed overview of the five decades of environmental progress with a global perspective.

1970s: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was established, the Clean Air Act  of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 were passed. 

1980s: Montreal Protocol of 1989, prompted by the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. This international agreement led to the phaseout of responsible chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and related compounds.

1990s: Earth Day went global. In 1992 the UN held the Rio Earth Summit focusing on global production of toxic waste and need for alternatives to fossil fuels for energy.

2000s: International treaties such as the 2001 Stockholm convention and the Kyoto Protocol in 2005 developed commitments from many nations to limit the use of harmful chemicals and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2007, Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the Nobel Peace Prize.  

2010s: The UN Climate Change Conference led to 174 countries and the European Union to sign the Paris Agreement, on Earth Day 2016, agreeing to limit total man made global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. UUCWC was awarded “Green Sanctuary” certification by the Unitarian Universalist Association in March 2010.

2020s: Actions include campaigns to reforest the globe, reduce plastic pollution, promote sustainable eating, conserve endangered species and provide environmental education.

Earth Day 2020 at UUCWC: The Earth Ministry Team was poised to offer so many special activities for this 50th anniversary and springtime.  Al Johnson has been able to run the Organic Gardening Class on Zoom and has already begun work to prep Allie’s Garden for planting. We planned on showing two movies, including The Condor and The Eagle by UUA, and will show The Biggest Little Farm in the future. We will reschedule the Mindful Meditation walk on our grounds, offer a Green Info Table on composting and recycling and a workshop on rain barrels, and provide a “pet green peeve” such as the info card on plastic straws that reads, “Straws Suck” with tips on reducing use.  We’ll resume our monthly organic product sales, and occasional used book sales when appropriate.

We will also look forward to setting up special recycling bins for health and beauty products and batteries, in a new association with TerraCycle.  Watch for details when church doors open once again.

Meanwhile, we hope you are getting outdoors and enjoying springtime. I find myself feeling gratitude every day for my own little piece of ground, the fresh air and spring blooms.  Celebrate your own Earth Day…your sanctuary in place. Celebrate our earth and all it provides us.