April 22, 2020
Jamie Rappaport Clark

When Sen. Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin called for an environmental teach-in on April 22, 1970, he was responding to a people frustrated by acid rain, pesticides, coal smog, toxic chemicals and oil slicks. That first Earth Day empowered people across the country to speak up because no matter who they were or where they came from, they believed in living on a safe and healthy planet.

Image
Earth Day / Enact 1970
Image Credit
University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability
Image
US Senator Edmund Muskie, author of the 1970 Clean Air Act, addressing an estimated 40,000-60,000 people as keynote speaker for Earth Day in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia on April 22, 1970.
Image Credit
Peter54321/ CC-BY-SA-3.0
Image
Senator Gaylord Nelson
Earth Day/Enact 1970. US Senator Edmund Muskie, author of the 1970 Clean Air Act, addressing an estimated 40,000-60,000 people as keynote speaker for Earth Day in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia on April 22, 1970. Senator Gaylord Nelson.

The environmental movement that followed resulted in landmark victories with the passage of such laws as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. But change in the 1970s did not just come from Washington D.C., and it can’t now.

"Earthrise" taken by the crew of Apollo8
NASA

The world faces a looming biodiversity crisis, driven by climate change and human development, that places as many as a million species at risk of extinction. 

Addressing that crisis requires all of us. If we keep expecting our government to step up and deviate from business as usual, we are sure to pass this calamity on to the next generation. We cannot let that happen. I cannot let that happen.

Staving off the sixth mass extinction is not a problem that can be solved species by species. We must look at this holistically, immediately addressing the real impacts of climate change and defending a vast network of lands and waters that support biodiversity. Every species needs our help—from the tiniest freshwater mussels and salamanders of the southern Appalachians to migratory birds and polar bears in the Arctic.

Image
Polar bears
Image Credit
Cheryl Strahl
Image
Bald Eagle
Image Credit
Stacy Ellenwood
Image
James spinymussel
Image Credit
USFWS
Image
Red Back and Shenandoah Salamander
Image Credit
Ann and Rob Simpson/Shenandoah National Park)
Image
Red knot flying
Image Credit
Larry Lyons
Image
Sockeye Salmon in the Russian River
Image Credit
Ryan Hagerty/FWS

The National Wildlife Refuge system that captivates young and old alike, the bald eagle that returned from the brink of extinction and the clean air that we breathe are emblematic of what we can accomplish together. 

Protecting our environment needs to be a moral imperative. We need to assert a stewardship ethic for the planet. We cannot afford to be complacent, hoping that someone else will save our Earth. 

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, speak up, speak out, get outside and above all else, act. 

I hope that in another 50 years, the children of tomorrow will be able to celebrate by paddling down a clear river teeming with salmon or watching herds of bison cross the Great Plains, and I hope they will marvel at how far we’ve come.
 

Read selected articles from our magazine or join today to receive the full magazine quarterly in your mailbox! 

Author(s)

Image
Jamie Rappaport Clark headshot

Jamie Rappaport Clark

President and CEO
Jamie Rappaport Clark’s lifelong commitment to wildlife and conservation led her to choose a career in wildlife biology. She has been with Defenders of Wildlife since February 2004 and took the reins as president and CEO in 2011.
comments

Follow Defenders of Wildlife

Image
Get Updates and Alerts