Today is Earth Day, and as I read about all of the celebratory events occurring in my area, I find myself pondering the real meaning of the day. The first Earth Day was recognized in 1970 and came to fruition largely as the result of the efforts of Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin who was disturbed by the 1969 Union Oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara and inspired by Vietnam War protests. Nelson imagined Earth Day to be a large-scale teach-in and day of national protest.
Many of the events that garner publicity are beach and park clean-ups, tree plantings, and the like. While these events are worthwhile, they do not always get to the heart of issue. Earth Day was intended to be a chance to learn about ways in which we can live in a more environmentally responsible fashion. Rather than reducing Earth Day to one-day cleaning excursions that have little long-term impact, we should recognize it as an opportunity to engage in real conversation about topics like reducing our dependence on oil, cutting down on our consumption and waste, and improving our public transportation infrastructure.
I am sure that many forums and classes covering such topics are held at community centers and schools across the country each year on Earth Day. However, they do not receive the media glory. Instead, the media tend to focus on clean-ups and tree plantings because they allow for interesting photos and videos and because they do not invite deeper discussion. I would like to see the media focus instead upon the true meaning of Earth Day and promote genuine discussion about what Americans can do in their daily lives to bring about real, positive change.