By Katrina Erwin, The CLEO Institute
The 50th anniversary of Earth Day is April 22 and we should look back on the great strides of the environmental movement.
A lack of environmental policy during the 20th century’s industrialization in the United States caused an enormous amount of damaging pollution. The initial Earth Day movement merged different groups fighting against oil spills, pollution, and habitat loss to unite around a shared value: their love for the planet.
The founder of Earth Day, Democratic U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, believed that he could “infuse the energy of anti-war protests with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution … and force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.”
Nelson teamed up with Pete McCloskey, a Republican congressman, and a 25-year-old Harvard student named Denis Hayes, to launch Earth Day.
On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans protested to support the environment. The first Earth Day was a bi-partisan effort and became a catalyst for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air and Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
There’s another anniversary this month that shows why Earth Day is still relevant: it’s been 10 years since the BP oil spill. On April 20, 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.
The spill showed the dangers of offshore oil drilling. Since Deepwater Horizon, Floridians have stood up against offshore oil drilling. Members of the 2018 Florida Legislature banned offshore drilling in Florida waters. At a national level, Florida Congress members Francis Rooney (R) and Kathy Castor (D) worked together to continue the ban on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Also, thousands of Floridians are mobilizing through petitions, events, and coalitions to protect their coasts.
But, we are still no safer today than we were 10 years ago. So, we need to remember the past, think critically about the present, and act for the future.
At the moment, the world is in the midst of a pandemic. COVID-19 has caused economic distress and anxiety throughout every industry. During this time, the federal government is justifiably working to minimize the economic disruptions this pandemic is causing.
But while there are many encouraging aspects to the federal stimulus package, we can’t ignore the negatives. Sadly, the package includes the pausing of EPA regulations and discusses the potential to bail out oil and gas companies.
And while COVID-19 makes life more difficult for humans, it appears to be helping the environment. Fewer people are traveling and producing things so oil and gas use are down. That has reduced carbon emissions. Many experts believe that as countries recover from COVID-19, the increase in emissions will be significant as people and companies make up for lost time.
Americans will have to decide whether to maintain these environmental benefits or continue to increase our dependence on fossil fuels. We must tell our congressional representatives to block any bailouts for oil and gas companies in the stimulus bill.
Congress must prioritize people over polluters. These latest rollbacks and regulation suspensions abandon science, reason, and responsibility at a time when we urgently need sound leadership. If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us is that ignoring science is dangerous.
This Earth Day we have the opportunity to reflect on the beauty of our planet and the actions we can take to protect our water, air, and climate.
Gaylord Nelson understood the importance of putting politics aside and focusing on the big picture: to protect WE the people. Unlike the first Earth Day, we are unable to take to the streets and advocate for a resilient and sustainable future. However, we now have the internet, which enables us to connect with others around the world and advocate for a better environment.
If our planet continues to warm rapidly, we will face a far worse public health crisis than we are enduring now. This Earth Day, let’s embrace the wisdom and principles of the environmental leaders of the past.
Let’s continue fighting for a safe environment in which we all can thrive.
Katrina Erwin has a Bachelor of Science in Mass Media Communication studies as well as a minor in International Affairs from Florida State University. She is now the Program Coordinator for the CLEO Institute located in Tallahassee, FL
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.