Anniversaries are special occasions. They have us stop and appreciate the perseverance of something through time and admiring progress made, pitfalls overcome, and moments of success. They come of course in many different shapes and sizes. Some celebrate personal events like wedding days while others observe national independence or notable social advancements. Those especially that mark an instance for a new course taken or change in public value are anniversaries we give attention. In a sense, celebrating the anniversary is intended to make us reflect on the progress made and peer back into the past before such change. Taking time to relish just how far we’ve come.
Well, I’m here to bring attention to a day that marks one of the greatest shifts in values in the US and across the globe. The advent of this day unified what were singular and separate efforts into a collaboration towards a shared purpose. Becoming a catalyst for actions that forever redefined our course and shaped not only our values of today but also the expectations of business and policy. Ironically though, we don’t often give it the attention deserved nor understand its full significance. You might be surprised to know that of all things I’m referring to, it happens to be the anniversary of Earth Day. An occasion that occurred 50 years ago back on April 22, 1970.
I’m certain I just earned eye rolls from some but let me explain its significance and what resulted. For context, Earth Day followed on the heels of the 1969 Santa Barbra oil spill in California (3rd largest in US history) where copious raw oil killed over 10,000 large sea animals (dolphins, seals, etc.) and devastated a cherished coastline. This, and several prior notable incidents, charged a demand for measures and a framework to prevent accidents that maim our outdoors.
Fast forward slightly over a year and we have an organized event that rallied 20 million citizens (10% of our population at the time) together to advocate for change. This was well heard by policy makers and met with bi-partisan support. In less than 2 years, we have the greatest environmental laws passed by President Nixon and congress that provided not only guidelines but enabled adoption by states and gave a framework for development overtime. These laws would be the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and an expansion of the Clean Air Act of 1963. Further yet, the Environmental Protection Agency was established to provide a centralized force to assess policy, oversee changes and developments, and work with states to meet common needs.
I cannot overstate enough, Earth Day initiated a change that was non-existent before it. It is the day where American citizens unified to say that environmental stewardship is a national priority and that there is value in conservation. Most impressively, this resonated with much of the world and started a path to better protection which we served as a model for. Earth Day is a testimony and the result of the many freedoms we have: to protest, to collaborate, to speak freely, and to initiate change for the better. On this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, look at it not as a day simply of passion for the environment, but as a shining example of the rights we have in directing our nation. It certainly has earned its place as a national holiday.