On January 28, 1969, a well drilled by Union Oil Platform A off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew out. More than three million gallons of oil spewed, killing over 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. As a result of this natural disaster, activists mobilized to create environmental regulation, environmental education and eventually, Earth Day.
Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22. The commemoration was founded by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson (Wisconsin) as an environmental “teach-in” after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill.
Inspired by the student anti-war movement, Nelson realized that if he could use that energy, combined with an emerging public awareness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national forefront.
Senator Nelson announced the idea to the national media, persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republic Congressman, to serve as his co-chair, and recruited Denis (yes, his name is spelled with only one ’n’) Hayes from Harvard as national coordinator.
Hayes built a national staff of 85 to promote events across the country. April 22, falling between spring break and final exams, was selected as the date.
On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable, environment. There were massive coast to coast rallies. Groups that had been isolated rangers fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.They finally felt “heard” and supported.
Senator Nelson was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his work.
Worldwide, various events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection.
When I was in high school, a friend and I decided to take an ecology class. That was in 1975. We were certainly interested in protecting and preserving the earth, but we were much more interested in appearing ‘cool’ and ‘aware’. Hey, we were 17 years old. That mattered.
It still matters. Often, it feels like the ‘cool’ thing to jump on the bandwagon of caring about government regulation and our environment and our national parks.
As I have aged, I now understand that it is about so much more than a bandwagon. It is our responsibility and duty.
Several years ago, I wore a t-shirt to church on Earth Day. It is pictured above. On that day, one person called me a hippie and another called me a flower child. A half smile with eye-rolling accompanied those words.
Because I care about the earth that our supreme Lord created, I am a hippie and a flower child?
Unfortunately, caring about our earth has been linked to bead-wearing, peace symbol-giving, long-haired freaky people*, bare-footed, tunic-wearing, pot-smoking, hippies and flower children.
I do have long hair. I do occasionally wear beads. I love to go barefoot. I sometimes give a peace symbol to someone speeding past me on the highway. I have an adorable Lilly Pulitzer tunic that I wear in the summer with white jeans. I love flowers and James Taylor and Jackson Browne. I have, however, never smoked pot. No interest whatsoever.
Christians should be leading the pack to care for our beautiful earth.
On this day, when walking out of church, bend over and pick up a piece of paper. Smell a flower. Turn off your running water while you brush your teeth. Ride your bike to work tomorrow. Notice the glorious colors of the sunset. Appreciate the tree in your yard that gives you shade and red birds. Visit our national parks.
And if you are feeling really crazy, put a daisy behind your ear and kick off your shoes. You might like being a flower child.
*Line from song “Signs”, circa 1971