Earth Day at 49

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By: Ahmad Graves-El

A look at how the day came to be 49 years ago and how we can make small changes each day to help conserve Planet Earth and its natural resources.

Planet Earth, which some people affectionately call the third rock from the sun, is home to a vast array of creatures, great and small.

According to the May 5, 2016 article written by Stephanie Pappas on livescience.com,  “… researchers estimated that there may be as many as 1 trillion species [on planet Earth].”

Included in those species are ones we are well aware of like birds, reptiles and plants, etc. There are also countless unknown species that scientists are attempting to discover and name, daily.

The species we are most conscious of is the human species—scientifically known as Homo sapiens—and according to worldometers.info, there are approximately 7.7 billion humans who currently inhabit the Earth.

No matter what kind or how many different species exist on this planet, we are all interconnected and indebted to the nourishment, comfort and care that Mother Earth provides us.

We are now living in an era where climate change is having a negative impact on the lives of all of Earth’s inhabitants. There is a contentious debate currently taking place between politicians, scientists and global citizens on what exactly is the cause of this change in climate and if the steady rise in temperature termed global warming, truly exists.

For nearly half a century, April 22 is the day designated to bring awareness to people about how their actions can positively or negatively affect the Earth. That day, known as Earth Day, will soon be upon us.

“Earth Day is a celebration of the general public’s [awakening] or realization that we need to be conscious of how we treat the planet,” says Melissa Young, professor of biology and environmental science at Cumberland County College. “The first Earth Day was a grassroots organized march to Washington, DC, much like the marches we have seen in the last few years. People marched to bring awareness to the fact that we were polluting the planet, which in [turn] also affected our health.”

According to earthday.org, “On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies.”

Also, according to earthday.org, politician, Gaylord Nelson, was the progenitor of “the idea for a national day to focus on the environment … after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.”

Making a switch to a reusable water bottle would have a huge impact without much challenge for the average person.”

—Melissa Young, professor of biology and environmental science at Cumberland County College

Early Earth Day marches and the revelation of the planet’s deteriorating resources due to human action caused the Richard Nixon administration to create the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which led to the enactments of the Clean Water, Clean Air and Endangered Species acts.

“It really was the birth of the EPA and the birth of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts that … began to make real differences,” says Jane Morton Galetto, board president and volunteer with CU Maurice River.

Citizens United for the Protection of the Maurice River, located in Millville, is a nonprofit organization that, according to their website, “engages in fieldwork, research, and education initiatives generating and contributing to a greater understanding of local environment and wildlife.”

“And now we stand at the crossroads of what has to happen next,” says Morton Galetto. “Because the things that scientists tell us is that our children will be the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than us. Some of those [influences] are environmental factors … [and] with the knowledge and the technology we have, we should be able to do better, not worse.”

Each year, Earth Day has a theme dedicated to bringing awareness to certain human actions that are causing damage to our environment and how we can turn the tide for the better.

This year’s theme is Protect Our Species. In Cumberland County, “we have the highest concentration of threatened and endangered species in the state,” Morton Galetto reveals. “At least 50-some different species are on our … list.” Some of those species include the Pine Barrens tree frog, the Pine Barrens rattlesnake, and the Barred owl, among others.

Young and Galetto have illuminating, yet practical ideas on how citizens in Cumberland County and across the world can do their part in protecting our environment and saving the Earth.

“I would say the easiest and most impactful is to stop using and drinking from disposable plastic bottles,” says Young. “Plastic waste is a huge and escalating problem both for the environment and our economy. Making a switch to a reusable water bottle would have a huge impact without much challenge for the average person.”

“I think we can make big differences by not littering, by trying to use more renewable products [and] by carrying a refillable water bottle,” says Morton Galetto. However, she cautions that “there still are some things that only governments can do that can lead to good.”

Monday, April 22, 2019 will be the 49th installment of Earth Day, which will be another opportunity for residents to stop and smell the roses, become educated and to understand that as human beings we have an obligation to protect our environment every day, not just one day a year.

“Earth Day is a wonderful exposure for people to stop and think about the importance of the planet,” says Morton Galetto. “But the greater good is done by living many days each year where you take time to appreciate the world around you and how you might protect it.”


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