On April 22nd, 1970, the United States celebrated its first Earth Day. This year marks the 46th Anniversary of Earth Day, and ACES is celebrating by designating April as Earth Day month at the Hallam Lake Visitor’s Center and Nature Preserve. You're invited to celebrate with us: visitors will enjoy themed-activities for all-ages at Hallam Lake and don’t miss our free community event, Earth Day Celebration & Green Drinks Kick-off, hosted in partnership with CORE and City of Aspen on Wednesday, April 20th.
Earth Day is a holiday designed just for us - those who enjoy the wonders of nature and want to protect our planet for future generations. The 1970s have been hailed as the decade that started the environmental movement in the U.S., thanks in large part to the numerous acts of environmentally-focused legislation including the Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). I was eager to learn more about this decade, and the start of Earth Day, so I called up Jayni Chase, a respected environmentalist who has worked in the environmental education field for thirty years and recalls the very first Earth Day, when she was just thirteen years old. Jayni founded the Center for Environmental Education, is a board member of Friends of the Earth, and was the 2014 keynote speaker and honoree at ACES’ annual Evening on the Lake. In the below interview, Jayni, who is also my mom, shares what Earth Day means to her.
When you think about Earth Day, is there one year in particular that stands out to you as particularly impactful or rewarding?
The first Earth Day made a huge impact on me. I was amazed to learn about lakes that were so polluted, if you tossed a lit match at them, they would ignite! I felt as though the people responsible for polluting those rivers and lakes had committed crimes against me. The idea that they had no regard for the fishes and plants and all the creatures that lived in those waterways upset me to the core!
The news reports taught me about air pollution and how it affects our health. Until then, it never occurred to me that the air I was breathing could be harmful — unless I was in a coal mine or some place obviously dirty and toxic.
All the news reports on TV were pretty shocking. Until the lead up to Earth Day 1970, those kinds of news stories came out sporadically and seemed disconnected, or most of us hadn’t connected them. This changed the entire country’s perspective — and perspective is everything.
The fact that Senator Gaylord Nelson and Denis Hayes fought hard and succeeded in creating the first Earth Day meant that the whole world, but especially the US that first year, focused on environmental problems in a way that had never even been considered. The first Earth Day and all since have helped lead large and small important changes in the ways we do things.
Of course, what I see as the most valuable outcome is education — getting Environmental Education (EE) in our schools has helped in countless ways. If the electorate in any country is not educated and aware of the consequences of how businesses are allowed to function; how cities manage their power, water, waste, transportation and commerce; how products are brought to market; how our food is grown and processed… then profit and greed will rule these decisions instead of health and the greater good. It’s sad to say but we must be diligent and untiring in our efforts to monitor and watchdog our businesses, our governmental agencies, our elected officials, our community services and our schools as well as our own homes.
Why is Earth Day an important tradition and what do you think it's done for environmental stewardship in the U.S. over the last 46 years?
Earth Day made the media, so voters and elected officials realized that there are real dangers when we pollute and, at the same time, this attention helped people realize that there are solutions. It activated me, I could not sit by passively. I still need to read and learn about what’s happening and then I want to know what I can DO to make things better.
Every year Earth Day raises our awareness, helping us realize that we are all connected to one another — what I choose to do will affect others and what they choose to do will effect me — and so we need to work together.
Earth Day has helped raise awareness about the importance of our wild places and how precarious these ecosystems are. For thousands of years we humans lived lightly and in harmony with other life on earth, but with industrialization we began pillaging the natural resources at such a fast rate, most of what was will never be able to regenerate again. Every year Earth Day brings us together to find solutions and improve our lives and save our wild places for future generations.
What is the message you aim to send to others through celebrating and participating in Earth Day?
We can breathe air that will energize us and make us strong and healthy or we can breathe air that will make us sick and weak and even kill us. We can drink water that will hydrate us, help our bodies clean out the impurities and so make us healthy and strong or we can drink water that will harm our brains and our bodies and can ultimately kill us. We can grow our food in nutrient rich soil and so have nutrient rich foods to nourish our bodies and brains or we can grow our food in soil that’s been depleted of it’s nutrients and instead pumped full of chemicals that can cause many diseases.
If we want to be strong and healthy, if we want our family and friends to be strong and healthy and if we want future generations to be strong and healthy, we have to stand up and fight for clean air, clean water and clean healthy farmland. We have to pay attention because if we don’t, I’m sorry to say, there are people who will pollute if it means they’ll save money or make more money.
What are some fun and meaningful ways for people to participate in Earth Day this year and in years to come?
My favorite recommendation is to suggest that everyone go outside! If you have the resources to go to a wild place, do it. If that option isn’t available to you, figure something else out — go to a new park, one that you’ve never been to, and explore it. Walk, run, skip. Move your body and feel the sense of freedom and clarity that comes to you when you’re outside just for the sake of being there. Dig in the dirt, climb a tree or a rock (carefully!), count the different kinds of plants and trees or birds or rocks or insects. Sit quietly and listen to the sounds.
Get a group of friends together and go for a long walk or hike. Talk about what you’re experiencing and how you’re feeling. And be sure you plan ahead of time so you don’t leave litter behind. Instead, leave only your footprints.
~ Emily Chase, Hallam Lake Programs Coordinator