What did you do for Earth Day 2013? Did you wear a special button? Recycle your newspapers? Light up Twitter with eco-tips? Whatever it was, I doubt it compared to what happened on April 22, 1970, the country’s inaugural Earth Day. Back then, Earth Day took the country by storm, generating more than 12,000 different events with more than 35,000 speakers. Congress actually took the day off and two-thirds of its members spoke at Earth Day events. The Today Show dedicated 10 full hours of airtime to the event, which was dubbed a national teach-in. We still feel its impact today; in the ensuing years, Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency and passed the Clean Air Act of 1970, Clean Water Act of 1972 and Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Earth Day catapulted the environment into our national consciousness. Forty years ago, recycling and organic food were oddities. Trends like urban gardening and rainwater capture were still dormant and people were far more concerned about acid rain than global warming. But today, millions of people understand the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) and farmers markets have sprung up in cities big and small across the country. It would be easy to think the environmental movement has arrived.
But has it? Since that day in April 1970, Earth Day has become a worldwide movement–a social, and some might say political, movement created and propelled by people who have chosen the environment as their main priority. But where does that leave everyone else?
We are at a point in history where we face some tough environmental issues, and The Nature Conservancy is working every day on the science to meet those challenges. But the answers we seek are not only based in science; they depend on us. It is incumbent on us to widen the proverbial tent. If we want to move the ball forward in protecting our land, air, water and wildlife, the “environmental movement” cannot survive. We have to create a new reality, one in which everyone understands their vested interest in ensuring our planet is healthy, our water is clean and reliable, and our air is clear.
So how do we do that? One good example is a campaign The Nature Conservancy in Texas rolled out for this year’s Earth Day. Our Malicious But Delicious campaign highlighted the devastation wrought by invasive species–not through statistics or images, but through food. And who doesn’t love to eat? We teamed up with two Austin-based chefs who created a series of recipes using four non-native species: wild boar, Himalayan blackberries, giant tiger prawns and bastard cabbage. They rolled out a four-course meal featuring those recipes at a special event and shared the spotlight with us at a local, two-day food festival. The end result was three-fold: we heightened awareness of some of Texas’ worst invasive species, emphasized the connection between a healthy planet and the food we eat, and perhaps most importantly, we introduced the Conservancy and its message of land and water protection to thousands of new people. We widened the tent.
In an increasingly crowded media landscape, that is the kind of thinking we need–innovative, interesting and ultimately educational. The health of our planet, and our ability to protect the Earth’s great places for our children and grandchildren, depends on our success in getting every man, woman and child reengaged in nature. Conservation cannot simply be a movement; it has to be a way of life.
Photo: bastard cabbage ŠTANAKA Juuyoh/flickr
By Laura J. Huffman, The Nature Conservancy