Apr. 19—Q: Why is Earth Day, which is Thursday, worth recognizing every year?
A: The original Earth Day was the brainchild of then-Democratic Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. He later wrote in 1984, "The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard." Big picture: The purpose of Earth Day is to show support for environmental protection.
Where would we be without the Earth? We only have one habitable planet that we know of, and that is something to celebrate, appreciate and protect. The fact that only one day out of the year is focused on taking care of the planet is somewhat problematic. We should really be thinking about protection of the Earth on a daily basis. It should be integrated into our lives. Having one day dedicated to the Earth is better than none. It is valuable because it allows for a day focused on education and promotion of protecting our planet.
Q: How does Missouri Southern State University plan to celebrate Earth Day this year?
A: We have multiple events going on this year. In the past few years, our environmental health and safety program and EH&S student club has organized an Earth Day conference. Since we were not able to host a large event this year, we decided to host a couple of smaller celebrations.
Last week, we hosted our annual reduce/reuse/recycle competition. This is for middle and high school students.
They complete an informational poster, art or product related to the theme "Reduce/Reuse/Recycle."
The projects were then judged by volunteers from our club. Top projects were awarded prizes sponsored by our department of biology and environmental health.
We are, additionally, hosting our first annual campus cleanup event. This is being organized by our EH&S Club. Individuals on campus organized into teams and were assigned to some of our less-traveled areas of campus. We are focusing on our native tallgrass prairie, MSSU cross country course, riparian zone of Turkey Creek and roadside of Newman Road. We have close to 100 volunteers signed up to assist.
Lastly, our staff senate is hosting a planter design competition. Each team will design a planter both inside and out. These planters are then being used to improve the outdoor aesthetics of our residence hall area.
Q: What changes have transpired in America since the creation of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970?
A: We have made great strides in environmental protection since that time. Prior to the first Earth Day, we had rivers so full of pollutants that they were catching on fire (Cuyahoga River), raw sewage running into the waterways we used for recreation and drinking water sources, severe air pollution, pesticides being used with little to no regulation, etc. People decided to create a movement that said we don't want to live in these kinds of conditions, and this resulted in the creation of Earth Day. Since then, we have seen the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, etc.
We have great room for improvement still, which is why it is vital to have a day dedicated to bringing environmental protection to the forefront of our minds. I think it is important for the younger generation to have a reminder of what things were like just 50 years ago. We have also seen this day go from an American celebration to an international one. There are estimated to be more than 193 countries who celebrate and with more than 1 billion people.
Q: Where do you think we would be today without events like Earth Day?
A: I would like to say that we would be making the progress that we have made even without the creation of a day dedicated to environmental protection, but I am not sure we would. The first celebration of Earth Day was a peaceful demonstration of 20 million Americans showing they wanted environmental reform. It displayed that we as Americans were not happy with the way our environmental resources were being used and protected. Without this demonstration, I don't know that the regulations and protection agencies would have formed at the pace they did.
Q: How can the public celebrate Earth Day?
A: There are so many ways to celebrate, but again, nothing says it must be restricted to just one day a year. Trash cleanups, planting trees, etc. are common ways. People can also reach out to local politicians about changes they might like to see in their community, such as greener spaces. You could dedicate some time to researching environmental topics or things that you can do to help the environment at your home, etc. Take a carbon footprint analysis (you can find free ones on the web). These can be very eye-opening when you see how many planet Earths we would need if everyone lived your lifestyle. Each person changing little habits can make a huge difference. Earthday.org is a great resource to get ideas.
National Geographic is hosting a virtual Earth Day Eve celebration at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. There will be performances by artists such as Angélique Kidjo, Willie Nelson, Yo-Yo Ma and Ziggy Marley, and appearances by a number of environmental activists such as Jane Goodall. You can join at the NatGeo website or at its YouTube channel — and afterward, continue with the music of Jayda G on the organization's TikTok channel.
Teresa Boman is an associate professor of biology and environmental health and safety at Missouri Southern State University.