April 22, 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. When anniversaries come up on even numbers people like to be retrospective of the event and look back, either fondly or not, at what it has meant. Earth Day was a product of the 1960s and the activism of the baby boomers. Along with civil rights and opposition to the war in Vietnam, environmentalism became a cause of the time period. As someone who grew up during that era and was a college student at the time of the first Earth Day, a remember the innocent enthusiasm of the inaugural event. I was caught up with the idea that human beings were polluting the earth and that it was just a matter of time before it all caught up with the human race and the Earth, our only home, would be ruined. As I look back 40 years I probably never thought the earth would make it to 2010, so in that way the awareness of Earth Day has been a success. People do recycle and pay much more attention to the environment than before the first Earth Day. But it has not been an even line of progress over 40 years. For a good portion of those years environmentalism went backward, but I would say that now we are further ahead than we were 40 years ago.
The whole point of Earth Day is to have one day a year when attention is focused on the environment and people can reflect on what they can do to help the environment. In reality, a bad economy is, unfortunately, a boost to the Earth Day idea. When people are short of cash, they take steps to save money that help the cause, such as driving less, reusing items and producing less trash. The truth is that the more money you have the less likely you are to conserve and after all, conservation is at the heart of Earth Day. Whether it is oil, water, energy or any thing else, if you conserve then Earth Day has done its job. The person who turns up the thermostat in the summer to use less air conditioning to save money is just as valuable as the person who turns up the thermostat to save the environment.
When I was in college there was a panic mentality to the Earth Day movement. By that I mean it was perceived that there was little time to spare and that a great catastrophe for planet Earth was just around the corner. I took that to mean a few years, but in reality the Earth has more time. Just how much more it is unclear. In any event, Earth Day no longer strikes panic in the hearts of most people and maybe it never did except for a few dedicated individuals.
So what should you do on Earth Day? You should pause to assess your personal life and see if there are changes you can make to help the planet. Are you recycling everything you can? Are you using as little gas as possible? Have you made those small changes to cut your energy use? After all, each individual is only going to make a small difference. But it is those small differences that add up to big changes. It is really about changing your lifestyle and the amazing fact is that when you change your lifestyle you not only help save the planet but you save yourself money. Economics and the environment are really the different sides of the same coin. As I said above a bad economy is good for the environment and, as always, conservation is the key to the Earth Day. We have limited resources and we need to conserve them.
So what are my final thoughts after 40 years. The earth has more time than we thought back then but the end result is still the same. If Earth Day and the principles it promotes are not fully implemented then eventually the worst will happen. So conserve like you have no money and help the planet all you can.