“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
Every year on April 22, over a billion people in 190 countries take action for Earth Day. Like Earth Days of the past, Earth Day 2014 will focus on the unique environmental challenges of our time. As the world’s population migrates to cities, and as the bleak reality of climate change becomes increasingly clear, the need to create sustainable communities is more important than ever. Earth Day 2014 will seek to do just that through its global theme: Green Cities. Focused on three key elements – buildings, energy, and transportation – the campaign aims to help cities accelerate their transition to a cleaner, healthier, and more economically viable future through improvements in efficiency, investments in renewable technology, and regulation reform.
The publication of Rachel Carson's New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962 represented a watershed moment for the modern environmental movement. Selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries, Ms. Carson raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and public health. The first Earth Day celebration was conceived by then-U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson and held in 1970 as a “symbol of environmental responsibility and stewardship.” Earth Day 1970 capitalized on an emerging enviromental consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement. As junior high students, we surveyed the trash along the nearby creek and around town in our city of Stamford, Connecticut. Twenty million Americans demonstrated in different U.S. cities.
In December 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA was tasked with the challenging goal of repairing the damage already done to the environment and to establish guidelines to help Americans in making a cleanerand saferenvironment a reality. The first Earth Day led to passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.
As 1990 approached, a group of environmental leaders asked Denis Hayes to organize another big campaign, taking Earth Day global. Environmental issues were lifted onto the world stage as over 200 million people in 141 countries were mobilized. Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
So what is the state of our environment today, 44 years later?
The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) latest report on climate change concludes that busineeses and local governments will need lead the way in minimizing the risks and maximizing the benefits associated with increasing temperatures, focusing increasingly on adapting to a warming climate, rather than focusing on mitigating warming. We can't afford to wait for world leaders to legislate against climate change. Individuals and communities need to show entrepreneurial initiative, figure out how best to survive in an increasingly volatile climate.
North America should focus on the increased risk of wildfires and urban flooding. Some people will profit from beefed-up flood-insurance policies; others will be forced to relocate their homes. New forms of insurance may develop against "weather-related yield variations" in the agricultural sector. Additional focus should be on heat waves, which may incapacitate and kill people. Communities may invest in public "cooling centers," and employers may have to adjust workers' hours.