Michael P. Nolin, Commissioner Department of Environmental Services
The environment has a lot to compete with these days for our attention. As another Earth Day is upon us, news of the war in Iraq, threats of terrorism, and natural disasters world-wide, as well as local concerns like town budgets and tax filings vie for our attention. I wonder if in this CNN generation of instant news and the constant barrage of commercial, political and other messages whether Earth Day can compete. Has Earth Day lost it luster?
The first Earth Day was about raising awareness of environmental issues in American popular consciousness. The results were impressive. Shortly thereafter landmark federal legislation was passed directed at protecting the environment, including creating the Environmental Protection Agency and passing the Clean Air Act.
Today, however, I wonder about the future of Earth Day although I don't believe that Earth Day or the environmental movement has lost its importance. Nor should we think we will ever return to a pre-Earth Day situation where the environment is the least concern in the minds of most Americans. So does Earth Day need an overhaul?
We should all feel empowered to do our part to protect the environment. No longer is it necessary to delegate the celebration of the environment to a single day holiday. Just as Scrooge learned to keep the Christmas spirit everyday in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, we should all adopt behavioral changes for the betterment of the environment.
Behavioral changes do not have to be radical; we just need to take more personal responsibility for our own "footprint", or impact on our environment. This can be as easy as turning off the water while you’re are brushing your teeth, dropping a plastic or glass bottle in a recycling bin instead of a wastebasket, or choosing to buy a product with less packaging than its competing brand. If on Earth Day we specifically focused on thinking about our individual consumption patterns, if every American considered how much water and energy he or she used, how much waste he or she produced, then maybe we could begin to create broader culture of environmentally-sustainable behavior.
Earth Day began as a grassroots effort and people should remember that humble beginning and the impact that the bottom-up effort had at the highest levels. Earth Day can regain the importance it held in 1970 when it kicked off the environmental revolution. Let this Earth Day be the spark for a new level of environmental consciousness in your home, family, and daily routine.