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Reflections on Earth Day
April 21, 2023
Today’s MI Environment story is by Eileen Boekestein, EGLE’s environmental education coordinator.
As we celebrate Earth Day this week, I keep thinking of a phrase that was repeated several times at last week’s MI Healthy Climate Conference: “To change everything, we need everyone.”
Haiku by retired EGLE staff Mitch Adelman.
Those of us who grew up celebrating Earth Day at school and whose memories don’t stretch back quite to 1970 are particularly prone to forgetting the enormous impact of that first event. We can easily forget that 53 years ago we didn’t yet have a Clean Water Act, a Clean Air Act, an Endangered Species Act, or any of the environmental regulations now in place. We didn’t even have an Environmental Protection Agency.
What we did have, as a nation, was people -- people who noticed things like rivers lighting on fire, species going extinct, and children suffering lifelong health effects from pollution. We had people who looked around and didn’t just say, “Someone should really do something,” but who decided that they were willing to be part of the solution. Some of them became educators, some became activists, and others made environmental protection their careers.
Earth Day 1970 included people of all ages, from all walks of life, and from all political persuasions, coming together to work toward a healthier environment. The impact of that collective action is staggering. By the end of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency had been created, and within a handful of years, almost every major federal regulation around the environment was enacted with virtually no opposition. (Check out an overview of the votes on federal statutes during the “environmental decade” below if you really want to have your mind blown.)
Earth Day is a time to celebrate our successes, to learn what still needs to be done, and to take action to protect the planet we all call home. To get that done, we still need everyone working together.
For those of you who’ve been working – either professionally or personally or both – to do your part to help Planet Earth – thank you! For those not yet engaged, now is the time: We have a federal government committed to positive change; the State of Michigan’s first Climate Plan to build on; and a public that is increasingly understands that the extreme weather events and seasonal changes aren’t an anomaly, but the canary in the coal mine warning us that the time for action is now.
I am optimistic with the energy I see toward climate action in youth, in our leaders, and in our public policies. Many hands make light work. Happy Earth Day, and let’s get busy!
Learn more about the history of Earth Day at https://www.earthday.org/history/
Federal Statutes of the Environmental Decade (1970-1980)
CLEAN AIR ACT, 1970 (House 401-25; Senate 89-10)
NATIONAL ENVIROMENTAL POLICY ACT, 1970 (House 372-15; Senate unanimous)
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY (EPA), 1970 CLEAN WATER ACT, 1972 (House 366-11; Senate unanimous)
ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT, 1973 (House 390-12; Senate unanimous)
TOXIC SUBSTANCE CONTROL ACT, 1976 (House 319-45; Senate 60-13)
CERCLA (SUPERFUND), 1980 (House 351-23; Senate 78-9)