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Letter to the Editor: Earth Day And Beyond

The Earth Day movement had its beginnings when Rachel Carson published Silent Springin 1962. She warned that the use of pesticides and herbicides would cause the death of birds and other environmental problems.

The environment had been polluted to the point that it was unsafe to swim in most larger U.S. rivers, let alone drink their waters. “Acid Rain” and the “Hole in the Ozone” became familiar terms. Pollutants filled the air we breathed. Human activity was driving many species to extinction. Humans were clearly poisoning and dangerously exploiting the natural world, and the U.S. was leading the way.

The public movement to address these critical concerns was begun by Sen. Gaylord Nelsonand organized by, then, 23 year-old Dennis Hayes. Hayes and his team urged reporters to write about the public’s dissatisfaction over the way the world had become polluted, how the natural world was being exploited, and encourage readers to contact Hayes’ organization. The public response was resounding! Earth Day was designated on April 22, 1970!

The public outcry led to congressional action: The EPA was formed in 1970. Passage of The Clean Water Act (1972), The Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972), The Clean Air Act (1973), The Endangered Species Act (1973) followed.

More needed to be done:

  • The near extinction of the brown pelican and the bald eagle from DDT led to thepesticide’s ban (1972).
  • Residents of Love Canal (1978), a community built above a municipal and industrial waste dump site, experienced high incidences of birth defects, miscarriages, and other health problems. Litigation followed which resulted in creation of The Superfund Program (1980). This program funds toxic waste clean-up at sites abandoned by industry.
  • Pollution from agricultural runoff and selenium in Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge (1982) led to lethal birth deformities in waterfowl and aquatic life like frogs. Resulting legal proceedings exposed federal gag orders requiring suppression of evidence. This willful compromise of human health and safety spurred the passage of legislation to ensure public disclosure and protect whistleblowers.

The world’s human population is currently more than 8 billion, an increase of 4.3 billion since 1970. Species extinction is unprecedented due to habitat loss, climate change and continued, unrelenting over-exploitation. Our oceans have become more polluted with toxic chemicals, plastics, microbeads, dead zones, and acidification. They are literally dying.

Climate change and global warming are the new “buzz” words. These changes have led to an increasing frequency of drought and wildfires, glacial melting and resulting sea level rise, and the increasing severity and frequency of storms. Mass migrations of desperate climate refugees have followed. The economic costs are overburdening governments and leading to political instability.

American consumerism and wasteful resource exploitation have contributed greatly to the present situation. It can be argued that our energy consumption has contributed disproportionately to the environmental disasters that affect so much of the world’s population. It is our responsibility to mitigate the catastrophic consequences of our actions. Earth Day is a reminder that there is still much more to be done, and we must rise to the challenge once again with an even greater sense of urgency. The future of this planet and all that live on it, will be defined by the actions we take now and in the immediate future.

Faith Strailey


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