Many of us have been moved and inspired by the passion of youth climate activists. Their energy and determination give me some measure of hope that actions can be taken to avert — or at least lessen — the global climate crisis we are facing.
This youthful enthusiasm brings back memories of 50 years ago and the work that a group of us did in the months before and after the first Earth Day in April 1970. For I was proud to be co-chair of the events at age 16 in my town.
For anyone who may be pessimistic about the current situation, it's helpful to remember how awful things were in 1970. Raw sewage was pumped directly into rivers. Toxic products — including the active ingredients in Agent Orange — were still in wide use. I regularly found dead robins and other birds when the elms were sprayed for Dutch Elm beetles or there was "fogging" for mosquito outbreaks. And the local rowing team was instructed if they fell into the river during practice, they were to obtain typhoid and diphtheria shots.
Despite this grim backdrop, much was accomplished in 1970. Attention was drawn to deadly pesticides and institutions that used them changed their practices. Town-wide cleanups were organized. Paper recycling programs were instituted. Canvas bags worked their way into circulation as an alternative to plastic shopping bags. No, we didn't fix all the world’s problems overnight. But we made a difference. And we demanded more be done.
In the young climate activists of today, I see parallels in their enthusiasm. They, too, are ready to make a difference. And they, too, are right to demand that more be done. Because as someone who both remembers that first Earth Day from 50 years ago and celebrates the anniversary as chair of the Land Trust Alliance board, I know our way forward is together.
Because together, we conserve the places you need and love.