Monday, April 22 was Earth Day, making this week a good time to reflect on the progress we’ve made on living responsibly on this planet. It’s also a time to take a hard look at changes we still need to make.
According to the Earth Day Network’s website, Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wis., founded Earth Day in 1970 after a massive oil spill in 1969 in Santa Barbara, Calif., in an effort to get environmental protection into the national agenda. Twenty million people demonstrated in rallies for a healthy environment, the network says, and groups fighting for different environmental causes realized they had common values. Today, more than a billion people worldwide take part in Earth Day activities, the organization says.
Campaigns against littering, laws to keep industrial waste out of streams and smog out of the air, and regulations to protect endangered species all have come out of the environmental movement, but we can see there is still a need for Earth Day.
Every spring, for example, volunteers take part in Project Clean Stream, an effort organized to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s rivers and streams. They pull thousands of pounds of trash out of streams, including car tires, lawn chairs, bicycles, TVs, oil drums and car parts.
On one hand, we can celebrate this achievement, but we also have to recognize that if a few hundred volunteers can pull this much trash out of the water in a day, there’s probably a lot of junk still out there. Of greater concern, it seems there are a lot of people out there who still are throwing trash out of their boats and cars.
The Maryland General Assembly certainly tried to do its part to protect the planet during this year’s session, which ended earlier this month.
Starting July 1, Maryland will prohibit the sale of polystyrene food containers here. That should help keep our waterways and highways a bit cleaner.
Also, the Clean Energy Act increases the state’s renewable energy standards to 50 percent by 2030, sets a plan to raise the standard to 100 percent by 2040, and aims to increase jobs in the renewable energy sector. That new law takes effect Oct. 1.
That is good news. Renewable energy generation has advanced greatly, but we have a long way to go to develop even more clean energy that will be abundant and reliable. We all would like someday to see cleaner water in the Chesapeake Bay, and enjoy abundant populations of oysters, crabs and fish.
We face serious challenges from a rising population that lives near rising seas. We owe it to ourselves, to our descendants and to the big, blue marble we all share to take these challenges seriously and to search for solutions.
Events held in honor of Earth Day serve to help us pay attention to the way we live, and what more we can do.
Maybe we can grab a trash bag and pick up garbage left along the roadside in our own neighborhood.
Or maybe we can start a compost pile in the backyard.
Or maybe we can just think twice before throwing away a plastic bottle that can just as easily be recycled.