Earth Day: Reflecting on Progress and the Path Forward

Apr 22, 2024 | Healthcare, News

54 years have passed since Earth Day was first introduced by Senator Gaylor Nelson, with assistance from Pete McCloskey and activist Denis Hayes. What started as teach-ins and protests on college campuses, inspired by the Santa Barbara Oil Spill in January 1969, as well as books like Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring,’ have now evolved into a nationwide day of celebration and advocacy for our Earth and our efforts to take care of it. Today, millions gather every year on April 22nd to celebrate our planet and the lengths we’ve taken to keep it safe.

What is the purpose of Earth Day?

Earth Day highlights the importance of taking care of our environment now and in the future. It celebrates the accomplishments our government has achieved in protecting our water, our air, and our environmental health. When President Nixon, a Republican president, established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 (better known as the EPA), it marked the first time in history that the U.S. dedicated a governmental department and day to our environment. Earth Day also serves as a reminder of how we must take the initiative and responsibility to care for the world that is taking care of us.

We also celebrate the passing of numerous laws that have aided in keeping our water and air safe. These include the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Endangered Species Act, all stemming from the infant years of this movement. Those efforts would lead to further laws to protect our environment, such as: The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Since then more modern laws have been enacted, such as the Climate Change Act (CCA) in 2008 under Obama Administration,  as well as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act (GGRA) under the current Biden Administration, which serve as governmental investment opportunities to help make our communities safer to live in.

Environmental Justice and Earth Day

One would be remiss not to include the environmental justice movement in remembering and celebrating Earth Day. In 1982, Black neighbors led by Dr. Ben Chavis in Warren County, NC, protested the state’s decision to dump toxic waste in their community. They marched and staged sit-ins for six weeks, and over 500 people were arrested. Although initially unsuccessful in 1982, the environmental justice movement was thus born here in North Carolina, and the landfill was decontaminated in 2004. Earth Day celebrates this win for people and the environment and encourages us to fight for environmental justice.

This Earth Day is an important one. Why? Outside of this year being a pivotal election year. Unfortunately, we as a country are still dealing with polluters that negatively affect humans and the environment. Our waters still contain PFAS and other contaminants, our air is polluted daily by manufacturers and energy conglomerates looking to make profits at the expense of the people they “serve,” and our marginalized communities are still dealing with those subsequent health effects. We encourage you this Earth Day to become more aware of what is going on where you live and find a way to positively impact your community! Attend an Earth Day festival, write to your representatives, and stay informed on how to best advocate for your environment. Remember, a healthy environment leads to a healthy you. 

Brayndon Stafford

Brayndon Stafford

Environmental Justice Coordinator

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