Earth Day 2021: A Look Back into History, a Look Forward into Our Future

This year, April 22nd marks the 51st EarthDay, a holiday celebrated by folks all over the world. It started in 1970 as a“teach-in” by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, who took action to shed light on the lack of attention given to the environment by American media and politics. It had been eight years since Rachel Carson published Silent Spring,over a year since the disastrous oil rig leak off the coast of Santa Barbara and less than a year since the Cuyahoga River caught on fire from industrial toxic spills.[1] Since that first Earth Day in 1970, April 22nd has become an annual time to celebrate,protect and advocate for the planet.

For some, Earth Day is a time to reconnect with nature and feel gratitude for being supported by such a resilient macro-organism that provides us with the essential elements we need to survive and thrive. Butfor many, Earth Day is also an increasingly urgent reminder of how little has changed over the past five decades, and how much needs to be done to ensure a just and livable future can prevail on this planet.

But it wouldn’t be wise to try to chart the course of our future without reckoning with our past. Indigenous peoples are the original caretakers and inhabitants of the land, yet their voices have been silenced, their land has been stolen, their subsequent treaties with the U.S.have been violated and their autonomy has been oppressed. They, along with Black, Asian American, Pacific Islander, Latinx and other communities of color have been disproportionately suffering environmental injustices[2] from systemic racism through oppressive policies, practices[3] and institutions.

It is clear that white-centric and westernized environmentalism is not the answer. The folks who have been on the frontlines since the beginning of American history should and must be central to the path forward. Reparative actions are desperately needed to prevent further harm and try to repair the relationships that white supremacy has abused. While the recent years have been devastating and tragic in endless ways, it has woken more of us up, showing us just how much work needs to be done and how we must do it. We are amidst critical times that call for us to be thoughtful in the rebuilding, including,how we can uplift and center perspectives of communities of concern who do not have the same resources and ability to participate in decision-making processes- due to lack of time, childcare, transportation, money, Internet, ability to participate in another language, etc. - to be actively involved in self-education, advocacy and the political process. This is a result of the same systems that created climate injustices and the need for advocacy and must be at the forefront of our minds for those of us who do have the privilege to be involved advocates.

It is also clear that we need more rooftop solar, not less clean energy (see this recent LA Times article), especially for communities of concern, which are often impacted by the climate crisis first and worst impacted. We need Indigenous wisdom, knowledge and sovereignty to be central to efforts, especially conservation, agriculture and soil health. We need localized, community-centric energy independence, not shareholder-drivencorporations profiting off of the backs of ratepayers. We need reparativeactions to sufficiently address redlining, which created the environmental injustices plaguing communities of concern.

We are proud to advocate for both a national Green New Deal and a San Diego Green New Deal, helping move us to zero carbon while advocating for the climate, jobs and justice for all. We invite you to get involved as well! There are many, many other solutions at our disposal and it is up to us to speak loudly and stand strong, in solidarity with those most impacted by climate injustices, to forge the path to a more just and livable future.


[1] See “The History of Earth Day” athttps://www.earthday.org/history/

[2] See “Toxic Wastes and Race in the U.S.” athttps://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1310/ML13109A339.pdf

[3] See NY Times Article “How Decades of RacistHousing Policy Left Neighborhoods Sweltering” athttps://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/08/24/climate/racism-redlining-cities-global-warming.html

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