50th Anniversary of Earth Day: So What’s New?

by Betty Spencer Dickey
Western Jurisdiction UMW Climate Guide

Earth Day

It may be hard to imagine that before 1970, a factory could spew black clouds of toxic smoke into the air or dump tons of toxic waste into a nearby stream, and that was perfectly legal. They could not be taken to court to stop it. How was that possible? Because there was no EPA, no Clean Air Act, no Clean Water Act. There were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment. Rivers and lakes caught fire they were so polluted!

It’s hard for me to believe it has been 50 years since the first Earth Day was held. It was April 22, 1970 and it marked the beginning of the environmental movement. There was a grassroots environmental movement going on and it was hoped that this event would increase ecological awareness.

According to then-Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.) (1916-2005), “The objective was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy.”

The former Governor of Wisconsin, Nelson organized a nationwide “teach-in” about environmental issues to take place on April 22, 1970. More than 2,000 colleges and universities, 10,000 public schools, and 20 million citizens participated, nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population at that time. And then on Earth Day, 1990, the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, more than 200 million people in 141 countries participated in Earth Day celebrations.

But we are still in a Climate Emergency! So what is happening now?

Families and children are still at risk from oil, gas & coal pollution.

One example from Moms Clean Air Force:  “Alexis has been exposed to benzene, a cancer causing chemical that is released into the environment by oil and gas activity. She lives near about 20 active oil and gas sites in Pennsylvania. Her mother did not know what was wrong when Alexis started to have uncontrollable nose bleeds, bruises, rashes and for a time was unable to walk. The toxicology report revealed the chemical cause. This isn’t happening to our children in the future, its happening now. “

According to a Moms Clean Air Force report, about 10 million people live and nearly 3 million kids attend school within a half mile of an active oil and gas site.

The Obama administration established national safeguards on climate and air pollution from 36,000 new and recently modified oil and gas wells across the country. These standards will prevent an estimated 300,000 tons of polluting methane, 150,000 tons of smog forming chemicals and 1,900 tons of benzene and other pollutants from getting into our air in 2020 alone. The Trump Administration tried to prevent these protections from taking effect but were blocked by the Environmental Defense fund. Now they are trying to eliminate all federal methane regulation, despite people’s protests and fundamental science.

The administration is still trying to block the Clean Car Standards, but those standards are the best tool to reduce climate pollution from transportation, the biggest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S. If you go to websites such as the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Resources Defense Council, 350.org, Sierra Club and many others, you can get a better idea of the good work these organizations are doing for us. The environmental groups have won about 80% of their cases against the EPA. The Environmental Protection Agency is now working to gut the progress that has been made in the last 50 years.

But for the last 3 years, the Environmental Defense Fund has been focused on suing the Trump administration for trying to dismantle those protections including the Clean Power Plan that was rolled back this past summer. That plan was designed to curb carbon emissions from power plants.

All these groups need our help, to sign a petition, to donate to the organizations, to tell people about the problems that fossil fuels cause. We need to support them.

What can we do to help? How can we participate?

Just Energy 4 AllYou need to make a choice and ask yourself, “Am I really doing all I can?

  • You can join UMW in the Just Energy4All campaign to curb methane and other fossil fuel emissions.
  • You can still go online at unitedmethodistwomen.org, and sign the Chevron letter. We are in the process of putting together new petitions for auto companies who are not staying with the Clean Car Standards.
  • You can join with others at your church or UMW for an Earth Day program in March, April or May. Screen a movie or video with an environmental theme. Check the Interfaith Power & Light website.
  • You can start a Green Study with your book club or small group.
  • You can involve the youth and challenge them to write stories about how they feel about the climate crisis and how it will affect their lives in the future. Share with their group and or the church.
  • You can petition or boycott the big stores to stop using so much plastic realizing that those big companies are the ones choosing to cover everything with more plastic than anyone needs!
  • Find an alternative to buy your products from websites such as Grove.
  • You can make a choice to not buy plastic containers from stores, even if they say you can recycle them because most end up in the ocean or landfills anyway.
  • You can make a choice to wash and reuse the containers you already have and carry them in your car for leftovers. Don’t put them in the landfill.
  • You can shop locally.
  • You can join with a group of people you know or another group that is already organized to participate in confronting polluters.
  • You can subscribe online to some of the organizations I mentioned.
  • You can come to the Western Jurisdiction Quadrennial, April 17-19, 2020, at Tempe, AZ. and see a great Environmental speaker, Katherine Hayhoe, for ideas.  If you can’t make it, look her up on YouTube for her other climate videos.
  • Read any of Sharon Delgado’s books.
  • Look up online or in our UMW resources for the best environmental books to read.
  • You can buy an electric car!

Educate yourself and your family, we don’t have much time.

Betty Spencer Dickey