(This column was first published in the April 19, 1999 Buffalo News.)
Our 30th Earth Day will be celebrated on this Thursday, April 22nd.
The idea for this special day occurred to Senator Gaylord Nelson in July 1969 while he was on a conservation-oriented speaking tour through the western United States. Nelson had sold President Kennedy on concern for the environment and the president had delivered several speeches on this topic. However, both the senator and the president had difficulty bringing this important and many-faceted subject into focus. That was a time of anti-Vietnam War "teach-ins" on college campuses across the country and Nelson thought that perhaps the "teach-in" format was a way to capture public attention.
Senator Nelson followed up on his idea in a letter to all 50 governors, the mayors of major cities and (in order to target schools) Scholastic Magazine. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the first Earth Day was observed in the Spring of 1970. On the 20th anniversary in 1989 the holiday was extended internationally so that today over 200 million people in 141 countries recognize this day for the environment.
Simply stated, the mission of Earth Day is to increase awareness, responsibility and action toward a clean, healthy future for all living things.
Early in the history of the holiday an Earth Day National Clearinghouse was established with Denis Hayes as coordinator. Hayes has referred to the project as "a movement that values people more than technology, a movement with a broad base, a movement that transcends political boundaries, a movement that honors people more than profit."
Of course Earth Day is an artificial event. Our concern for the planet on which we live should extend to every day of the year -- but at least the designated day serves as a reminder and as a time when we can initiate personal activities in support of our environment. We are too ready to blame the problems with pollution of the world around us on the infamous "other guy" when too often we contribute to those problems ourselves.
If each of us did a few simple things, the total effect would be substantial. Here are a few of the many easily performed acts that can make a difference. Put a brick in each of your older toilet tanks to reduce water usage. Start a compost heap to recycle some of your garbage. Discontinue using broad-target pesticides. Walk more; take public transportation more. Don't litter. Test your home and workplace for radon.
Among the Earth Day-related events scheduled Thursday are two that bracket the day. Dr. Thomas Mang, research professor at Roswell Park, will speak on "Dangerous Beauty: The Health Risks of a Flawless Lawn" at a 7:30 a.m. breakfast at the University at Buffalo Center for Tomorrow. (For reservations call 829-2608.) Then at 7:00 p.m. Tom will join Dr. Frank Rossi, Cornell University horticulture professor, Don Paul, Channel 4 meteorologist, and Sally Cunningham, consumer horticulture educator, for another session on lawn care concerns. Their program will be held at the Cornell Cooperative Extension auditorium on the Roycroft Campus, 21 South Grove Street in East Aurora.
Earth Day and its related activities are driven by two very different personal forces: fear and love. Many of us worry about the future of our planet. Today's problems are barely manageable and those of the future appear far worse. But we also love our environment. Especially at this time of year, this time of renewal, we don't mind being called "tree-huggers." We want to protect our wonderful surroundings. To do so we must take action now.
So celebrate this day but continue its recommended activities every day through the year ahead. -- Gerry Rising