The first Earth Day 42 years ago was planned for the high spring season, when the land – at least in the mid-Atlantic states – is in the burst of renewal and vibrant color. Sunday, Earth Day, brought much needed rain to the Northeast. Streams and rivers that on Friday were flowing at the barebones levels of high summer now appear replenished. And weeks ahead of regular schedule, our trees and flowers are blossoming, too. It’s lovely out there – but does raise one question no one was talking about in 1972, which is what climate change is doing to the earth.
Given the contentious state of our political affairs, it’s worth recalling that the first Earth Day was a bi-partisan initiative. It was co-chaired by a Democratic senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, and a Republican, Pete McCloskey from California. They imagined a series of teach-ins around the country, and reminiscent of the Occupy movement today, it emerged a series of spontaneous actions on college campuses and in communities all over the U.S. People were fed up with oil spills, toxic waste, loss of wilderness land, smog, polluted rivers, extinction of wildlife, and many other forms of environmental degradation. It’s estimated that 20 million participated. I can still recall the photos of sad-eyed seals coated with sludge from the massive Santa Barbara oil spill and the unimaginable burning of a river – the oil-slicked Cuyahoga in Ohio. Both were symbols for the movement.
Those 20 million wanted to do something – and demanded and became part of change at the local and national levels. Some of the milestone achievements of national policy to repair the damage to the environment and protect citizens’ health were championed under Pres. Richard Nixon: the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency were among them.
There was conviction then that stewardship of our country’s natural resources cuts across party lines, ideological lines, and state lines. There was also agreement that the federal government was the proper enactor of these broad national aspirations. We all breathe, we all need clean water to survive, we all eat the bounty of the land.
And, all politics are local. Spring in the North Country is a reminder of nature’s resources and gifts, and of nature moving at its own pace. Our forest and agricultural soils have been building for 10,000 years. These are priceless resources for our intelligent use. Getting past the quick fix sloganeering of the national political carnival, we can look at what we are doing today to create our future.
Our care for the land – the call of the original Earth Day – is lived through our efforts here. We don’t wait for anyone else to do it. We do it by supporting our local farmers and growers and by encouraging market incentives to bring land back into production for food and forest products. The “Keep Growing” initiative launched last summer involving a wide circle of partners is focused on using the land in ways that grow the economy, grow community, and protect our air, water, and soil, ultimately building local food and energy self reliance within this interconnected world.
We also care for the land by celebrating the people who use the power of their ownership to leave a legacy and an opportunity or future generation on the land. People like Daphne Godfrey and Bill and Lorraine Hanaway of Lyman, who recently conserved their farm and forestlands, and the Merrill family, who conserved their timberlands on Gardner Mt.
In the North Country, working this closely with our land is one way we control our destiny, regardless of the national political scene. Every day is Earth Day!
Rebecca Brown directs the Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust.More information may be found at www.keepgrowingnhvt.org.