Earth Day: Then and Now

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By Adam Mehan

This Monday, the world will be celebrating Earth Day as it always does on April 22nd.  With so many “days” to celebrate, like “National Taco Day” or “National Puppy Day”, the weight that a “day” carries has lost a little luster in recent years. Taco Day is October 4th by the way. However, Earth Day seems to carry more heft now compared to when I was a child. This is an exceptionally good thing. Clearly, we need to put importance on the issues that Earth Day shines a light on, now more than ever before. I do wonder if the idea was for Earth Day to be this relevant in 2019 than when it began 49 years ago, all the way back in 1970. Organizers probably never envisioned that we would be coming up on the 50th Earth Day next year since the goal of any movement is to inspire enough change that it is no longer needed.

In 1970 people wanted clean air and water, and something to be done about species who found themselves pushed to the brink of extinction. We still want those things today but we also want to shed light on new crises like dying coral reefs, climate change, ocean plastic, and mass deforestation. We’ve upped the ante from some endangered species, and gone all out with mass extinctions.


The first Earth Day was the brain-child of then Wisconsin Senator, Gaylord Nelson, and conservative Senator from California, Pete McClosky. Put into motion on the heels of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil blowout which gushed over 3 million gallons of oil into the pacific, killing 10,000 seabirds, sea mammals and fish, activists in California organized an event on the one year anniversary of the disaster. Environmental Rights Day took place on January 28 , 1970 in Santa Barbara California at which time a Declaration of Environmental Rights was read.   

Senator Nelson was compelled to take action after touring the more than 800 square mile oil slick in the Pacific and was inspired by activists. He felt that if they could harness the same youthful energy that he had seen in Santa Barbara and during the Vietnam war protest and focus it on environmental issues, he would be able to create an environmental movement in the United States of America. He was right. In a time where air quality was poor in most major U.S. cities and no major environmental protections were yet in place, issues like air quality, wildlife, water quality were not as bipartisan as in our current government. Scientific facts and figures and the basic wellbeing of all Americans was central to persuasive rhetoric.

Senator Nelson elicited the help of Senator McCosky and reached out to the organizer of the movement in Santa Barbara, Denis Hayes. Hayes would take what he had learned nationally when he was hired to be the organizer and national coordinator the country’s very first Earth Day.


It was on April 22nd 1970, across 2,000 colleges and universities, that the first Earth Day took place with peaceful demonstrations asking for environmental reform. Always savvy politician and then President, Richard Nixon, who once said “America did not conserve its way to greatness,” was even inspired to plant a tree on the Whitehouse lawn with his wife, Pat.  The movement created with that first celebration of Earth Day would lead to the creation of the world’s first national Environmental Protection Agency and signing of both the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act along with the Endangered Species Act.

Since that time the movement has grown, spreading to over 192 countries and celebrated by over a billion people. It is run by the non-profit Earth Day Network, chaired by none other than activist, Denis Hayes. This year, the theme for Earth Day celebration is “Protect our Species.” This theme was chosen to highlight that nothing in nature exists alone and that we as humans are upsetting the balance of the planet in a way that cannot continue. An excerpt from the organizations websites explains further.

The unprecedented global destruction and rapid reduction of plant and wildlife populations are directly linked to causes driven by human activity: climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution and pesticides to name a few. The impacts are far reaching.” For more information please visit their site here.

Earth Day has grown, but many of the themes from the first Earth Day remain.

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The first Earth Day came about because a few individuals saw serious problems occurring in this country and decided to do something about it. It was a time when the country shared a common interest to protect the natural world. Politics played no part in the discussion. It was simple. Poor air quality, species decline, and one major environmental disaster made Americans realize the importance of conservation and preserving our natural earth is key and that public lands belong to us all. The few do not have the right to destroy them for their own self gain. This sentiment was felt across the entire United States. It simply took a few individuals to give the first domino a push. The dominos of environmental activism have continued falling ever since. In order to keep the momentum going, more people need to get involved. For ourselves, our children, and for the good of our planet, it is urgent that those who feel strongly about these issues to take action. We live in a very similar time to the 1970s when it comes to social consciousness. The world is waking up to the severity of the damage we have done to the planet.  We need another group of people to take action and to make some noise.

Throughout next week there will be local events highlighting some of the original issues raised during the first Earth Day (clean water, clean air, protecting species who are in desperate need of our help) and focusing on the most dire situations of our time--climate change and single use plastic. Pick an event or two and show up. Go and listen or lend your voice to the discussion. Several events will have local volunteer groups--check them out, introduce yourself, and get some information about how to join. Earth day can be experienced on social media but it’s best experienced together.



6pm, Wednesday 4/24
The Plattsburgh Public Library will be showing the 2017 Documentary, Chasing Coral (Run time: 1:33)

7pm, Saturday 4/27
The Strand Theater will be showing the 2017 Documentary An Inconvienet Sequel, the follow up to Al Gore’s 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth. The film backs up the scientific claims of the last decade and provides accurate accounts of how severe climate related problems have gotten in the short time since the first film (run time, 1:39). Admission will be $5.00 for students and $7.00 for the general public.

Community Events:  

Monday 4/22, City Hall Rotunda (lobby)
The Plattsburgh Sustainability Committee will be hosting their first event to garner support to make Plattsburgh a Climate Smart Community. The Plattsburgh High School Green Team will be presenting. Petitions will be available to sign in support of the project.

Tuesday 4/23,
Plattsburgh Public library will hold Working Together to Resolve Climate Change, Hosted by Climate Activist, Tim Palmer

Friday 4/26, United Methodist Church (127 Beekman St.):
There will be a free concert with performances by Towne Hall, Peter Henry, Stan Ransom, Ray Agnew, and Celia Evans all performing songs in celebration of our planet.

Saturday, 4/27 at the Plattsburgh Farmers Market:  
The Farmers Market will be holding an event in Downtown Plattsburgh featuring park and waterfront cleanup, games, and educational activities put on by various groups like the Plattsburgh Sustainability Committee, and Conscious Citizens of Plattsburgh. At noon there will be an Earth Walk to the Macdonough monument.


Kids events:

10am - 11am, Monday, 4/22, Point Au Roche Nature Center:
Little Explorers Earth Day, featuring stories, songs, and art projects for kids ages 1-5, all ages are welcome.

10am - 3pm, Tuesday 4/23, Kids Station Children’s Museum (13 New York Rd):
Earth Day at the Kids Station will include Earth Day arts and crafts and special science Tuesday activities.  Admission for the day will only be $1.00 per person.

10:30am, Thursday 4/25, Plattsburgh Public Library (19 Oak St):  
Family Story Time, at 10:30am.  There will be a special Earth Day theme and egg carton starter seeds to take home.

6:30pm - 8:30pm, Friday 4/26, United Methodist Church (127 Beekman st)
The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship will be hosting Earth Friendly Children’s activities for all ages.


6pm - 7:30pm, Thursday 4/25
Climate Scientist, Ray Johnson, will be speaking at the Plattsburgh Public Library about the science behind climate change and the effects we are seeing from it.

Other Options:

Plastic Swear Jar, Changing Tides Foundation

This program works just like a swear jar. The idea is that for a full week every time you use any single use plastic, you add a dollar to the jar.  At the end of the week, see what you have, and ideally donate it to an environmental group.

To register, follow the link on @changingtidesfoundation instagram account or click here:


If none of the above-mentioned gatherings work for you, create one that does. Host your own documentary showing for a group of friends. I recommend either of the previously mentioned films as well as A Plastic Ocean (2013), Before the Flood (2016), Mission Blue (2014), or watch a docu-series such as Blue Planet 1 or 2 or the newly released Our Planet. You could even organize your own street, neighborhood, or park clean up. Get a group of friends or family, or just go at it by yourself. The message of Earth day is not confined to a calendar or to group events