By Claudia Hackney, ACE Steering Committee Member
On April 22, 1970, Earth Day was born, an idea conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, who had a goal to move environmental protection “permanently onto the national political agenda.”
Reflecting on 50 years of Earth Day last year in the March/April 2020 Sierra Club magazine, this quote caught my eye. “Since then, the influence of Earth Day has waxed and waned; at times it had seemed little more than an occasion for corporate greenwashing. But the fieriness of the first Earth Day remains like an ember within the original idea.”
Like many ambitious ideas, what is intended at its beginning is not always how future efforts, or celebrations for that matter, end up. Anything that lasts for fifty-one years as Earth Day has is going to morph over time and not always in ways true to the original concept. But it has persisted.
I was an idealistic suburban high school kid on that first Earth Day. Details have faded, but I do remember driving with friends to Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. It was an impulsive decision, not much like me. The day was just beautiful, with one of those gorgeous spring-time blue skies. There were a lot of people, all kinds of people, and the energy was exciting. There were many speakers, not all of whom could be heard clearly, but they sure held everyone’s attention. People were sitting and standing on the grass (and smoking it, as well!). It was the first time I ever smelled pot.
Like the influence of Earth Day, my focus on it has also waxed and waned over the years, although some threads kept running through—a persistent, and some of my friends and family might say, irritating insistence on the importance of recycling.
Environmental justice and climate change are where my interest and energy are expended these days, and I am grateful for the new ideas, energy and refocus of generations coming up. After all, they are the ones who will be living in the world that results from our efforts to save this beautiful and one-of-a-kind planet. There is so much to learn from climate activists all over the globe, including pointing out where efforts have strayed from something that was intended to be multiracial and incorporating more than a little of the idealism of the civil rights and anti-war movements.
What can we do? We can focus our attention and intentions in the direction of things like: good energy jobs, the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) being a current example; working to reduce carbon emissions in an effective and equitable way by supporting efforts like the Citizens’ Climate Lobby; and by educating young and old about the importance of conservation in all its many guises, including encouraging and not squelching the enthusiasm and ideals of our youth.
I am hopeful, but not naïve, that what we do now can truly make a difference. If Earth Day does nothing else (and I hope it does much more), once a year we can turn our sights and focus our actions into taking care of Mother Earth. I think she would like to be healthy and able to take care of us, her children, well into the foreseeable future.
Claudia Hackney is a retired IT desktop support professional. A member of the ACE Environmental Committee, she helped organize our September 2019 panel, which included members of the DuPage Clean Energy Coalition and the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County. Claudia also spearheaded the Meatless Mondays Initiative and is a member of Citizen’s Climate Lobby, as well as the League of Women Voters-Naperville. She also volunteers at the First Congregational Church-UCC in Naperville.