Renewed Challenges of Earth Day

April 22, 1995

Remember Arbor Day? It's April 28, a national holiday for more than a century, the first official observance in the United States to recognize our obligation to protect the environment.

Arbor Day tree-planting ceremonies signaled America's commitment to a sustainable society, even if limited to ensuring fresh crops of forests for future harvest. The manifold benefits of trees to a healthy environment, not just to human consumption, were recognized by few.

But the idea of human trusteeship for the well-being of the earth was inherent in that nationwide holiday. It is the spirit that was reborn 25 years ago in Earth Day, which will be celebrated today by more than 200 million people around the world.

Earth Day marked a turning point in our national consciousness. The grass roots movement, springing in part from the student anti-war movement, took root and grew into a prolific garden of environmental protection that defines our daily lives. Some 20 million people took part in teach-ins, demonstrations and eco-stunts to emphasize their concern and push it to the forefront of the political dialogue.

Popular momentum mounted, the observance grew into an annual celebration, abiding concerns about the ecosystem became an unchallenged priority. A quarter-century later and the enthusiasm is still strong, spreading around the globe.

The spirit persists in myriad ways to protect the environment and save the planet. Mushrooming population and industrial growth place greater burdens on the natural systems, forcing more creative solutions to ecological degradation.

Local efforts remain the core of citizen action, the heart of the Earth Day movement, even as crucial decisions are made in Washington. Increasingly, the cumulative effects of individual contributions to pollution are complicating solutions.

Backlash to federal environmental regulations is building in Congress and the states. Political pressure is mounting to devolve environmental oversight to the states and localities. That may modify some methods of environmental stewardship, as Arbor Day differs from Earth Day, but it doesn't mean an end to environmental protection where citizen commitment remains strong.

Earth Day 25 is cause for pride and appreciation of the extensive efforts made to clean up our water, air, land and to protect the planet over the past quarter century. It is also a clarion call to continue the campaign in our homes and communities as well as in the legislative arenas.

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