Earth Day: An Environmental Turning Point

By Naturalist Allie Moskal

Spring is in the air and so is our celebration of Earth Day (April 22). Earth Day began in 1970, thanks to the efforts of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson to spread awareness about environmental issues. At this time there were no Clean Air or Clean Water Acts, nor any regulating organizations to hold polluters accountable. Over the past 49 years, Earth Day has grown into a globally recognized holiday. This day of observance is a reminder of our appreciation for the environment and validation of the incredible improvements humans have made throughout history.

NYT: Earth Day newspaper

Before the creation of Earth Day, common pollutants were increasingly effecting many natural resources. In 1968, the Grand Rapids Press released an article titled “Is Lake Michigan Dying? If it is, What Should We Do About It?” The article explored what humans have inflicted upon the lake, including raw sewage seepage, dumping by commercial ships, and even nuclear power plant contamination along the lakeshore. During the early 1900s, Lake Michigan was an acceptable site for dumping toxic waste, which was leading to the poisoning of the United States’ largest source of freshwater. In February of 1970, in a meeting with the Council on Environmental Quality in Chicago, President Nixon addressed the state of Lake Michigan by saying “... unless something is done now with the potential pollution of Lake Michigan, it could become like Lake Erie, which at this time could be classified as a dead sea, an inland sea. We do not want that to happen. And the time to act is now." Remarkably, the fate of Lake Michigan was dramatically improved as actions were taken by citizens.

Lake Michigan map

During America’s rising concern of environmental quality in the 1960s and 70s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created on December 2, 1970. During the EPA’s nearly 50 years of work, the agency has enforced many acts including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Pollution Prevention Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and many more.

Though awareness of environmental issues now seems to be common knowledge, the problems we face are far more complex than they appear. Currently, anthropogenic climate change is the hot topic, especially within politics. It is incredibly important to remain involved in environmental and sustainability matters through voting and activism. Just as humans have contributed to environmental problems such as climate change, deforestation, resource exploitation, and species extinction, we have the ability to reverse these issues. And the time to act is now.

During my journey through the environmental and sustainability field, I have had the opportunity to work with extraordinary activists for the environment, many of whom have inspired me to lead a sustainable life. I am honored to be part of Dunes Learning Center where I can help instill a love for nature in younger generations. I have experienced first-hand the importance of environmental education as it teaches children creativity and compassion. Through my work as an Interpretive Naturalist, I feel Earth Day is everyday.

Being a friendly Earth advocate can become an lifestyle by making environmentally conscious decisions daily. You can celebrate Earth Day 365 days a year by using reusable bags, voting, educating yourself, supporting your local farmers market, and thousands of other small steps. Since the founding of Earth day nearly 50 years ago, we are headed in the right direction to improving the health of our Earth.

Allie Moskal

Allie Moskal