April 22, 2020 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of Earth Day. This movement was initiated by two American politicians from the Democratic and Republican parties, who were concerned with the prevalence of air and water pollution, the decline and disappearance of species, and the presence of toxins threatening public health. Their objective was to focus public attention on these issues in a non-partisan manner. The publication of The Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1963 and the establishment of Earth Day in 1970 are credited by many as main drivers of “the environmental movement” and subsequently many improvements were made. Important legislation was established to reduce water and air pollution, to clean up polluted lakes and rivers, to eliminate acid rain which was devastating forests around the world, to eliminate toxins such as DDT (thereby resulting in the return of bird species such as the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon), to reduce lead and mercury in gasoline and air and water emissions (thereby improving public health) and to restore and preserve habitat for nature at large and threatened species in particular. In this time period, the United States was a leader in environmental protection and this leadership prompted other countries to follow suit. Over this time period, the Earth Day movement grew to an extent that it is recognized today in more than 180 countries! It is clearly a movement that inspires international cooperation, as most environmental problems are international in scope.
While many problems have been solved, environmental issues have become even more serious in the intervening years with significant loss of biodiversity, loss of habitat, declining standards of environmental protection, loss of momentum for international cooperation and above all, with global warming. Like the Covid-19 Pandemic, these problems are all international in nature, and require concerted international effort and cooperation. Many scientists believe that the Covid-19 Pandemic will be relatively small in its impact on people, relative to the eventual impact of global warming, and just as there was for the pandemic, there are many warnings that we are past due the time to start to take serious actions. The templates for action were established in the 1970’s. Can we learn from the past? This is something we should all contemplate on Earth Day 2020.