For nearly four decades, Earth Day has been a rallying cry to raise global awareness about our responsibility to the planet. It has mobilized millions of people to plant trees, clean up their communities and streams, and really think about how their energy use and actions influence the health of the planet.
This year, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is issuing a challenge to the more than 1 billion people expected to take part in Earth Day activities on April 22. She's urging them to take that ethic beyond a single day by making April into Earth Month, and then stretching it into Earth Year, which would annually renew.
It isn't impossible, and it isn't the huge sacrifice that wealthy corporations and their politicians would have people believe.
Just look at California. Driving electric vehicles and hybrids (the state has more than twice the U.S. average number of hybrids per capita), recycling, and reducing energy use are second nature in much of the state. That's largely because, after the first oil shock, California began taking action by writing building codes to require energy efficiency and decoupling utilities so their incentives switched from encouraging unbridled energy use to encouraging its efficient use.
As Energy Secretary Steven Chu likes to point out, once a society reaches a certain level of energy use, people's standard of living does not increase as their energy consumption increases. California provides the perfect example – it's energy use has stayed flat while the rest of the nation's shot upward over the past 20 years. Europe and Japan also use far less energy yet provide the same if not better standard of living.
The EPA and other groups are also encouraging a global dialogue, and not just among the leaders who are negotiating their way toward a new climate pact later this year in Copenhagen:
Starting on Monday, the Center for American Progress Action Fund is promoting a week-long national conversation via Twitter that will focus on the future of smart grid technology.
Earth Day Network, along with the National League of Cities, Local Governments for Sustainability, Sierra Club, and U.S. Green Building Council, and other groups is encouraging communities across the country to launch a National Conversation on Climate through town hall meetings and climate actions on April 22.
Jackson already got the message rolling in her EPA video encouraging people to get involved as the 39th Earth Day approaches:
"We've seen how far we can come if individuals take the initiative and get involved, but we still have a long way to go to protect our most vulnerable communities, especially the children that live in them, to remove pollution and toxic chemicals from our air, water, and land, and to build a clean energy economy that creates new jobs, clears the air and frees us from our dependence on foreign oil.
"That way, people 39 years from now will remember that this generation helped to build a better future for all of us. We won't get there without your help."
We have made progress since the first Earth Day. With the help of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, we've reduced the urban smog we created, and we've cleared the water ways our industries polluted. Now, the foremost concern is climate change from greenhouse gas emissions from our vehicles, power plants, factories, homes and farming practices.
It's another environmental problem that we created – it's up to us to fix it.