This coming Monday, April 22, is Earth Day. It’s special this year, as this will be the 50th Earth Day since the first Earth Day was observed in 1970.
Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson and environmental activist John McConnell came up with the concept of that first Earth Day, though they disagreed on what date it should take place. McConnell thought it should be on the spring equinox, while Sen. Nelson advocated for April 22, which became the date we still observe.
In that first Earth Day, millions of people took to the streets to protest the negative impacts of industrial development. This was before creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and laws such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act, to name just a few items that emerged from those first Earth Day observances.
Earth Day is now a global event and the Earth Day organization says that over a billion people in 192 countries now take part in what they describe as the largest civic-focused day of action in the world.
While people observe Earth Day in many ways, the lead organization, Earth Day Network (www.earthday.org) suggests international themes, and this year’s theme is Protect Our Species, highlighting threats to a variety of species in the natural world. Some species include bees, coral reefs, elephants, giraffes, whales, and even trees.
Recently, scientists predicted that Montana’s mountain foothills that have experienced wildfires would likely come back as grasslands, as a warming climate won’t support a new forest.
We’ve all heard about the issue of declines in bees and other insect pollinators. Over the last ten years, beekeepers in the U.S. and Europe have had annual losses of around 30 percent annually. Similarly, wild bees have also declined.
The ramifications of loss of bees are immense. Many crops depend on honeybees to pollinate flowers as the beginning point of nuts, berries, seeds and fruits. Bees contribute $24 billion to the U.S. agriculture industry, amounting to a third of the food that we Americans consume.
Bees are threatened by the pervasive use of insecticides, neonicotinoids, and GMOs, as well as climate change, habitat changes and loss of bio-diversity. It’s a complex issue.
Honeybees have long been close to my heart. Growing up on a farm, I would love to walk through a clover or alfalfa field and see thousands of honeybees hard at work on the millions of flowers. The husband of my country schoolteacher was a beekeeper and at least once a year he would come and speak to us about honey and beekeeping. Taking it a step further, I love honey and prefer it for pancakes and waffles.
Something we can do in our own backyards is to establish a bee-friendly garden, a space with a variety of flowers. Something we did, some years ago, was to dig up a chunk of lawn and plant it to wildflowers. We’ve enjoyed seeing a number of honeybees and butterflies rolling in ecstasy on blooms. We also have a couple patches of thyme, a fragrant herb that produces abundant flowers that bees love. Our only regret is that we don’t know where the bees are coming from, because we’d love to get some of that thyme honey.
This Earth Day 2019, there are many causes and ways to observe the day. We can point with alarm at the actions of the current Administration that seems intent on rolling back and even destroying environmental protections. Dump your chemicals and mine waste in streams and rivers. They don’t care. Fill the atmosphere with coal smoke. It’s okay.
This year, let’s send a message to those in power.
We do care about clean air and clean water. It’s not okay to pollute the air and cause acid rain. We value our bees and butterflies and other pollinators. We don’t want to see the earth’s glaciers fade away. We are frightened by the erratic weather changes that happen because of climate change.
Set aside time on Earth Day to learn what’s happening and take some action. It’s that important.