As I’ve been working on the Earth Day Resources for congregations to plan actions around the 40th anniversary of Earth Day this year, I’ve been reminded of the history of Earth Day and the environmental movement in the US. The movement’s start in the late 1960s, early 1970s led to the creation of the first Earth Day, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Scientists warned that the pollution in the water was killing the lakes and streams; the Cuyahoga River even caught on fire. Air pollution was seriously degrading the environment. Both were impacting public health. But if I have learned anything from that movement, it was the amazing commitment of everyday people all over the country that demanded environmental improvements and made them happen.
One year after that first Earth Day, William D. Ruckelshaus reflected:
“We came to realize the human dimensions of antiseptic statistics.
We came to realize that the more than 1400 pounds of air pollution per person which rides the wind and rain across this continent is a hazard to health and life and the human spirit.
We came to realize that more than 50 trillion gallons of hot water, millions of tons of organic and chemical pollutants, enormous amounts of fertilizers, pesticides, and most of all, sewage every year are spoiling rivers once celebrated in our art and literature and history. The Hudson and the Potomac, the Missouri and the Monongehela, the Snake and the Androscoggin – all rivers rich in history – are today rivers rich in industrial and municipal wastes.
We came to realize that the more than 7 million automobiles, 20 million tons of paper, 48 billion cans and 26 billion bottles a year which litter our landscape means that almost nowhere on this continent can man escape the impact he has had on nature.
We came to realize too that we were not alone in our disregard for the delicate balance of life.”
Now is that time for climate change.
In December 2009, the EPA announced an endangerment finding, allowing EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. On January 21st, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced a disapproval resolution, which is expected to be brought to the Senate floor sometime this month. If passed, it would block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases and dirty coal, and furthering US contributions to the environmental injustices that contribute to climate change. Supporting the Clean Air Act is the best way we already have under current law to limit the environmental justice impacts of climate change and to help our country shift to a clean energy economy. This is, without a doubt, the way of the future. Please contact your Senators and tell them to support the Clean Air Act.
This is only the first step. Together, we can, and must, work towards a world where the environment is healthy for all who live there. The people who receive the least of society’s benefits and have the least power to affect changes are the ones who feel the environmental impacts first and most severely. Climate change is already being witnessed by people who work closely with the land. Together, we must love urgently and work towards climate justice.