Earth Day 2011

CC Flickr photo of earth courtesy of flyingsinger.

We’ve come a long way since the first Earth Day. Over 40 years ago, on April 22, 1970, one in every 10 Americans participated in the first Earth Day, demonstrating their demands for a cleaner, healthier, safer environment. Forty years ago, environmental protection didn’t exist. Companies all across the country were allowed to turn waterways and industrial sites into toxic waste dumps. Ohio’s Cuyahoga River became so fouled with oily pollutants that it caught fire. Yes, a river became a fire hazard.

Earth Day launched a groundswell of environmental awareness. Americans from all walks of life spoke up and our government listened. Before the end of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was established. Landmark legislation soon followed. The Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act have had a sustained, far-reaching positive effect on the quality of our environment.

Today Earth Day is truly a global event. Thanks to the Earth Day Network (, over a billion people in 192 countries will participate in a wide range of Earth Day activities.  It’s fitting for Earth Day to be the biggest civic event on our planet, because we need all the help we can get. The potential for global climate change (a term that didn’t exist back in 1970) to disrupt agricultural production, increase severe storms, raise sea levels and alter ecosystems is truly scary.

Earth Day gives all of us an opportunity to “think globally and act locally,” not just for one day but on an ongoing basis. Although the prospect of “saving the planet” may seem far-fetched, it’s what we all need to be doing in various ways. Earth Day reminds us that regardless of religion, political affiliation or economic status, we’re all hurtling through space on the same orb. We’ve all got a stake in preserving life as we know it. Here are a few ways to celebrate Earth Day 2011 –by increasing your awareness and then acting on it.

Read something by Bill McKibben. Widely recognized as one of our leading environmentalists, McKibben continues to write about a broad range of environmental issues. A new edition of his best-selling book, The End of Nature, has just been published. You can read articles and essays at his website:

Learn more about the EPA. The scope and depth of information at the Environmental Protection Agency’s website is truly impressive. Whether you want to learn more about acid rain, lead paint removal, contaminated well water or household hazardous waste, you won’t be disappointed.

Get your hands dirty. Volunteer opportunities at the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can provide rewarding hands-on exposure to our wealth of protected wilderness areas. There’s a good article about these programs at The Wilderness Society website:

Reduce energy use at home. Here in the U.S., buildings are responsible for over 40% of our total energy use. Today we have the technology and products to transform an energy-wasting building into an energy miser. But we’re not putting these resources to use nearly as much as we should. If you haven’t had your home tested and evaluated for energy performance, don’t delay any longer. Find out what upgrades (like insulation, air-sealing, a new water heater, an ENERGY STAR™ dishwasher, etc.) your home needs to reduce energy use, and make a plan to complete as many improvements as you can. The nationwide impact of home energy upgrades is huge –less dependency on fossil fuels, lower carbon emissions, improved air quality and lower utility bills. There’s a wealth of useful information about home energy performance at Dr. Energy Saver (

About Tim Snyder: A journalist specializing in sustainability, energy efficiency and home building topics, Snyder is a former executive editor of Fine Homebuilding magazine. He recently produced a green remodeling manual for the EPA and a chapter on “Smart Shelter” for The Whole Green Catalog, published by Rodale Press. Snyder’s advice and commentary can be found on numerous sites including Wisebread, Green-energy-news, MotherEarthNews and Dr.EnergySaver. He also provides training and support for Dr. Energy Saver, a nationwide network of energy auditors who also perform a comprehensive range of prioritized energy-saving improvements.