Around Nebraska it’s not too hard to hear somebody talk about how government just plain doesn’t work or should just keep its nose out of people’s business. While no doubt this is true in many instances, there is no question that when it comes to clean and healthy land, air and water, without an active government working on our behalf, each one of us—even those who think “government” is a four-letter word—would be in a whole lot of trouble.
We mention this because it has come time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Earth Day is now middle-aged, and like any middle-aged birthday boy or girl, it does a little reflection shortly before the party begins. The younger generations today, of course, has no direct memory of rivers bursting into flame, cities choking through smog-filled skies, open industrial sewage pipes spilling into waterways, oil spills fouling the coasts. Ah, but if you were around then, you remember it. Back in the distant haze of the late 1960s, it seemed pollution was out of control. The “environment” was simply not on the nation’s political agenda, even though the degradation around us was threatening our health and quality of life.
The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, was a nearly spontaneous grassroots response to the shocked realization that unless people demanded something be done about what was happening to the environment, it was just going to get worse. Those first 20 million people who gathered in 1970 simply weren’t going to put up with it any longer, and their message was heard loud and clear. Their demands for action quickly resonated across the country and world, leading to the accomplishments that, frankly, have served to make these “burning rivers” stories seem like ancient history to today’s generation.
But how did this change occur? Because of the policy decisions of our elected representatives, responding to these public demands through the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Environmental Quality, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, fuel economy standards, toxic chemical “right to know,” SuperFund cleanups, “brownfield” industrial cleanups, wetlands protection, recycled content requirements, lead bans in gasoline, energy-efficiency standards, greenhouse gas emission controls, landfill regulation and many other actions taken at all government levels. Our political leaders on a bipartisan basis made a commitment to set ambitious environmental goals and tough public health standards—and then found a way to meet them. Everyone—businesses, governments and the American people—were challenged to be a part of the solution. And act they did.
Now, 40 years later, the broad public fully supports the value of these actions and their direct relationship to a more hopeful, positive future. “Environmentalism” is now no longer a “special interest” but a widespread public interest. This robust record hasn’t occurred, of course, because of one Earth Day, lo these many years ago. Over the years, this ground has literally required constant spading and fertilizing, from one generation to the next, with new leaders and new ideas rising up to continue this legacy and respond to new environmental challenges. While we may not see the same environmental catastrophes today that played out over 40 years ago, we now face new challenges, particularly related to sustainability and climate change. These challenges are as critical as those we experienced 40 years ago, and they, too, require action to ensure our children’s future—and their children’s future—is clean, healthy and sustainable.
It would be great if these challenges were as cinematic or as easily crystallized as they were 40 years ago. People are legitimately concerned but confused by today’s issues. Do we need another “give a hoot, don’t pollute” campaign to help people grasp how rising and unpredictable energy costs, global climate change, serious water shortages and global economic crises are assuredly a part of our day-to-day lives now, whether we like it or not? Do we need another weeping Native American to remind us that our own use and consumption of energy, water, food and materials is a part of the problem—and the solution? Do we need a burning river to help us understand that lowering our carbon emissions is a great idea for today’s economy and tomorrow’s?
Responding to this reality is a major challenge, not just for our national leaders but also right here at home. Lincoln Earth Day 2010, and its week of activities, will be an exciting opportunity to inform and motivate not just the usual allies but everyone in Lincoln—in neighborhoods, homes, workplaces, businesses, restaurants, watering holes, streets and parks.
This year, Cleaner Greener Lincoln is partnering with area organizations and individuals to create a community-wide Lincoln Earth Day 2010—a 40th anniversary celebration with events the week of April 16–24. By encompassing a whole week of activities, Lincoln Earth Day 2010 is striving to reach the entire community, with the focus on the importance of a sustainable urban environment. There will be many exciting and positive experiences for children, families and businesses interested in a more sustainable city. Events include recycling at the Spring Game, community “conversations” on today’s issues, movies, tours of “green” buildings, restaurants serving “green meals,” fun run/bike rides, green business networking and investments, and an Earth Day celebration full of music, food, games, booths and information the afternoon of April 24 in Antelope Park.
In addition, Lincoln has been selected as an international “Earth Day 2010” official location by the Earth Day Network, with our events being featured on a national and international stage.
With the growing interest by everyone in sustainability, it is a great time to be a part of making Lincoln truly the “green Capital City of the Great Plains.” So, as you celebrate Earth Day 2010, raise a glass of Nebraska wine (or beer) and celebrate these 40 years of accomplishments, but remember that the job is far from finished. And while it’s no longer your father’s Earth Day, your personal actions will ensure that future Earth Days are not merely observations of a bygone era but rather a time for renewing our commitment to building a better world for our children and their children to come.
For details, the full schedule of events, community sponsors and more information about Lincoln Earth Day 2010, visit http://www.lincolnearthday.org or contact Kari Rohren at kari[dot]rohren[at]huskers[dot]unl[dot]edu or (402) 301-3492.