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Reflections from Stephanie Wagner, LOSN and OLWC Board Member

Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate, — Robin Wall Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass

On April 22, 1970 rallies and teach-ins were held across the United States to bring attention to environmental problems throughout our nation. In 1969 the Cuyhoga River in Cleveland, Ohio had caught fire, there was a massive oil spill that polluted beaches and killed wildlife in Santa Barbara, California, and air pollution was so severe in some cities people were not able to breathe. Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, called for events that would help galvanize public support for government actions to protect and improve the environment. Denis Hayes, a young Seattle activist, helped to organize events in cities and on college campuses across the country. It is estimated 20 million people participated that first Earth Day.

It worked! In December 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency, which was tasked with protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment—air, water and land, was established. Over the next few years important pieces of environmental legislation were passed, including the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

Do you remember the first Earth Day?

Cindy Ellison, the Lake Oswego Backyard Habitat coordinator, was a teenager at the time and remembers being in the woods behind her house in rural Massachusetts and realizing it was Earth Day. She thought she could not be in a better place to celebrate the earth. Cindy’s inspiration led her to study Resource Conservation in college.

On that first Earth Day I (Stephanie Wagner) had a 10-day old baby girl. I had just completed my studies in biology at UCLA and was very aware it was Earth Day. I remember organizing our recycling so my husband could take it to the brand new recycling center near our home. In Lake Oswego, the first Earth Day was when Marcie Kirschbaum, Ann Ransmeier and Lu Beck joined 307 other volunteers to go door to door to raise funds to help purchase the land that is now Tryon Creek State Natural Area.

The first Earth Day served as an inspiration on many different levels. Unfortunately, some of the environmental protections secured during the 1970’s are not providing the results initially intended. The theme for this year’s Earth Day is Climate Action. I invite you to visit the Earth Day website and find a virtual program to join. All of us need to think about what we can do to become Climate Activists. The LOSN website has actions you can take. On Earth Day 2020 make your pledge to take action.

I leave you with the second part of Robin Kimmerer’s quote: Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.