Over 50 years ago in 1970, the first-ever Earth Day was organized. The years leading up to 1970 saw America producing large amounts of fossil fuels, sludge, and pollutants with no real knowledge of the consequences to the planet, let alone to people’s lives. However, in the mid-1960s, young Americans were starting to wake up and realize that the stench in the air wasn’t success and accomplishment—it was pollution.
One such American was Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin. After spending years with concerns for the state of the environment around him, he was pushed over the edge with the massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969. Senator Nelson decided to organize a teach-in on college campuses on April 22nd, 1970 to speak about the deteriorating environment in the United States. Bringing in young activists to help organize the event, the group changed the name to Earth Day, which immediately created a buzz of national media attention.
The first Earth Day in 1970 inspired around 20 million Americans, 10% of the population at the time, to rally against the environmental devastation that industrialization had been causing. The day created shared common values amongst the young and old, Republican and Democrat, rich and poor. It also led to the creation of:
- United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA)
- National Environmental Education Act
- Occupational Safety and Health Act
- Clean Air Act
- Clean Water Act
- Endangered Species Act
- Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)
In 1990, Earth Day went global and inspired 200 million people to take part in this groundbreaking day. Nowadays, people all around the world recognize Earth Day as a day to incite change, big or small, into our communities and, ultimately, our planet.
How will you celebrate Earth Day this year (and every day)? Here are 5 ways you can join the fight to help make our environment a better place.
1. Create a Backyard Habitat
Planting to attract wildlife and nurturing native habitats helps increase native bird and insect populations while adding to the beauty and enjoyment of our outdoor spaces. Portland Audubon and Columbia Land Trust teamed up to design a Backyard Habitat Certification Program providing technical assistance, financial incentives, recognition, and encouragement to those who create natural, low-maintenance gardens that support people, wildlife, and the planet.
2. Plant a Tree
Celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day (April 30th) by planting a tree! Urban trees provide shade, beauty, privacy, and wildlife habitat. They help keep energy costs down in summer with cool, shady canopies and slowly absorb storm water runoff in winter to improve water quality and reduce stress on city drains and sewer systems. Unfortunately, many of our area trees were recently damaged from wildfires or winter storms, so planting a tree this spring can help us recover from these losses and symbolize hope for the future.
3. Compost Food & Yard Waste
Composting is a game changer. Aside from reducing waste and combating climate change, compost is great for the garden—it promotes healthier plant growth, increases beneficial microbes in soil, boosts fertilizer effectiveness, prevents erosion, and aids in water management. “Compost can be easy to make and offers many benefits, from helping your garden grow greener (for free) to lightening the load in your curbside yard waste bin.” – Oregon Metro
4. Participate in a Local Cleanup
Plastic, cigarette butts, and other types of trash are extremely harmful to wildlife, water quality, and human health. Cleaning up litter is not only essential in keeping our neighborhoods safe and healthy—it also helps prevent harmful pollutants from heading downstream to our shared ocean. Though we have a lot of work to do, participating in local cleanups is invaluable!
5. Shop Local
There are endless ways that buying locally supports environmental (and economic) sustainability. First of all, you are purchasing goods produced in your local community, which means less travel to the consumer, less packaging, less energy used, and therefore, less pollution and waste overall. Shopping local also means you are getting fresher produce that is most likely organic, hormone free, and pesticide free—a win-win! Lastly, by buying local, you’re supporting the farmers, makers, and workforce within your community instead of large corporations.