April 22 is Earth Day. This year marks the 52nd anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. It’s a movement that was in part ignited by one of California’s worst ecological disasters: the catastrophic Union Oil Platform A blowout in the Santa Barbara Channel in January of 1969 that ejected an estimated 11 million gallons of crude oil into the water.
Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and the Channel Islands received the brunt of the damage, but oil washed ashore as far south as the Mexican border and the damage to the environment was staggering. Activists nationwide mobilized. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was passed in 1970 in direct response to the disaster, and it’s no coincidence that the first Earth Day was celebrated that year.
Senator Gaylord Nelson, the junior senator from Wisconsin, a Democrat, was an early environmental advocate. The Santa Barbara spill galvanized him. He came up with the idea of a teach-in on college campuses. The goal was to harness some of the energy of the anti-VietNam war movement to generate environmental awareness.
Nelson enlisted Pete McCloskey, a Republican Member of Congress who was also an environmental advocate, to co-chair the effort.
Nelson and McCloskey together selected Denis Hayes, a young activist, to organize the event. It’s estimated that 20 million participated in the first Earth Day.
Half a century later, Earth Day is an international event. More than a billion people participate. People who come together regardless of borders, political parties, or other barriers to communication and action, people who care about the planet and who want to do something to help.
Here at TNT we are celebrating Earth Day with an in-depth interview with Wayne Visser, author of the book Thriving: The Breakthrough Movement to Regenerate Nature, Society, and the Economy. Visser embraces the philosophy that we can all make a difference by changing the things we can change, whether it’s as simple as remembering to compost kitchen waste and unplug unneeded electronics, or as ambitious as going solar.
TNT contributor and sustainability expert Cecilie Stuart shares a few of her favorite tips, while life coach Olivia Pool reminds us that nothing actually belongs to us—we are the stewards, not the owners, of the Earth and everything in it.
None of us can save the Earth on our own, and it’s all too easy to get climate disaster burnout and become discouraged, but together we can make a real difference, on Earth Day and every day.
Need an example of positive change generated by a group effort? Today, April 22, the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing over the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills at Liberty Canyon breaks ground. It’s the biggest and most ambitious wildlife crossing ever designed. The project, a public-private partnership involving dozens of agencies and nonprofit organizations, has taken more than 10 years to develop, but it will soon be a reality. And it’s already inspiring new wildlife crossing projects worldwide. Sometimes things really do come together for good.
Stay safe, be well, and happy Earth Day!