By Jay Farrell
If we accumulate memories like adding songs to a playlist, Earth Day makes my “greatest hits” album. I remember the first Earth Day celebration vividly: our class buzzing with excitement as we walked away from school and started picking up trash. We got dirty, we had fun, and we did something good.
The first Earth Day in 1970 commemorates the success of an environmental movement that also spawned a host of environmental protections. In the 1960s, Americans were becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of lead gasoline, DDT, and acid rain. It was also was an era of progress, marked by space exploration and the rise of recycling and anti-littering campaigns.
Every kid watched the Apollo moon missions live on TV in school, and every astronaut was forever changed by seeing our fragile blue and green planet from space. “It truly is an oasis and we don’t take very good care of it. And I think the elevation of that awareness is a real contribution to, you know, saving the earth if you will,” said Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott.
Earth Day is more relevant than ever. In 2021, we have added plastic rain to acid rain, and the threat of climate change looms large. Trees and forests are more relevant than ever, too. They’ve emerged as top renewable, nature-based solutions.
For the National Association of State Foresters, Earth Day is a day to celebrate the countless ways trees and forests improve the environment and our lives. Professional foresters use science-based approaches to manage urban trees and rural forests. Together with partners and private landowners, they help keep the green parts of the globe green, all while sequestering carbon in trees and wood products.
For me, the most valuable legacy of the first Earth Day is the inspiration it provided to young people. So many of the kids that grew up in the 70s—especially the ones that yelled at their parents for littering—ended up in careers in forestry and other environmental fields. Earth Day has the power to inspire young people today, too. I know I’m inspired by youth conservation leaders who see trees as part of the solution.
Like the tallest redwood, Earth Day stands above lesser greeting card holidays. It calls us to do something. Plant a tree (or hug one if you must), go for a walk in the woods, buy a wood product, recycle paper… whatever you do, don’t forget about Earth Day—celebrate it!
Jay Farrell is NASF’s executive director. Learn more about NASF and our work in the “WHO WE ARE” section of our website.