Happy Earth Day everyone! The internet and news media are alive with Earth Day topics, and we thought instead of repeating what’s everywhere already, we’d put a personal face on Earth Day with a guest blog from one of our passionate customer service team members, Michael!
I was young in 1970, but not too young to remember the first Earth Day. Earth’s population was 3,706,618,163, a number I couldn’t possibly comprehend. The small town I was growing up in existed solely to support the oil refinery it surrounded. I don’t remember ever seeing it not spewing black smoke into the air, and it smelled funny. My uncle said that was the smell of money, but he worked there, so I figured he was just used to it. Earth Day seemed like a cool idea to me but my very conservative father thought it was stupid, dreamed up by hippies. Turns out I was right; it was a cool idea.
Visiting a devastating oil spill in Santa Barbara in 1969 provided the impetus for Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson to take action with the goal of directing attention to a variety of environmental issues. With bipartisan support, he was able to organize the first Earth Day, with some 20 million Americans coming together in various locations around the country.
20 years later and all grown up, I was proud to take part in an event for the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. By that time, it had become a global event, with 200 million people in 141 countries around the world. That celebration led directly to the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and Senator Nelson receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995. By 2000, Earth Day had expanded to be recognized and celebrated in 184 countries. Earth Day continues to grow, both in scope and in size. It is estimated that over 1 billion people worldwide now celebrate Earth Day.
We’ve come a long way toward better stewardship of our environment since 1970, but there is still much work to do. The population has doubled since the first Earth Day. That oil refinery from my childhood still stands there, and still belches out black smoke. Not my uncle, though. He died of lung cancer about 20 years ago, most likely from all those years working around the “smell of money”.
Why even celebrate Earth Day? What’s the point? Largely, the success of Earth Day has been seen in the area of awareness. Earth Day has brought people together in unlikely alliances. The farmer who resists using pesticides on his own crops, the South American college student protesting deforestation, and the Sri Lankan watching his beach disappear have come to realize they are all essentially fighting the same battle, and there’s power in numbers.