Earth Day: a time to consider diverse accomplishments

On this Earth Day, I would like to share some “environmental victories” at the national level, take note of advancements in environmental education at the state and local levels, recognize a global climate accomplishment at the international level and celebrate the birthday of John Muir, a giant in the conservation movement.

Environmental victories

Sometimes, amid the environmental battles of today, it is good to step back and look at the changes that our country has gone through since the first Earth Day in 1970. Brian Clark Howard does just that for National Geographic by calling out 46 milestones in environmental history.

The events he describes include various environmental laws, starting off with the National Environmental Policy Act in 1970; international agreements, such at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in 1975; corporate responsibility, such as McDonald’s move to biodegradable packaging; community outrage, such as in Love Canal; and books and movies, including Al Gore’s call to climate action in “An Inconvenient Truth.”

This is not a comprehensive history of the environmental movement, but it is a strong reminder about how advancements come about in the efforts to improve our environment.

Poulsbo Elementary School teacher Lisa Hawkins leads a discussion among first-grade students in the photo taken in April 2010. Kitsap Sun file photo by Larry Steagall
Poulsbo Elementary School teacher Lisa Hawkins leads a discussion among first-graders in this photo taken in April 2010. // Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

Environmental education

Six years ago on Earth Day, I wrote a story titled The Evolution of Environmental Education (Kitsap Sun, April 17, 2010) about how environmental education became ingrained in learning through the primary grades — in contrast to the very limited discussions outside of college up until the 1980s.

In 1990, the Legislature mandated that environmental education be part of public instruction at all grade levels, then in 2009 new statewide standards brought a focus to not only ecology but also social and economic systems.

My story describes the struggle to integrate these additional studies into overall classroom learning, rather than teaching separate units on each topic. That effort at integration has continued, as teachers work together to share information about what works in the classroom. See Education for Environment and Sustainability at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Climate change agreement

More than 150 world leaders gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York City today to sign an agreement designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the globe. This is the formal signing of an accord reached in Paris by more than 170 countries four months ago.

“Today is a day to mark and celebrate the hard work done by so many to win the battle in securing the Paris agreement,” Secretary of State John Kerry said this morning, as quoted in a Newsweek article. “Knowing what we know, this is also a day to recommit ourselves to actually win this war… Nature is changing at an increasingly rapid pace due to our own choices.”

Hannah Hickey of University of Washington News and Information rounded up comments from UW experts on the topic. Some were hopeful that the international pact will mean substantial reductions in greenhouse gases before ever more drastic climate change comes about. Others seemed to be saying that the agreement is too little too late.

John Muir

John Muir, whose name is synonymous with the conservation movement in the U.S., had much to say about the need to protect special places. Muir’s birthday was yesterday, and I appreciated the 10 inspirational quotes about the outdoors that was pulled together by the Department of Interior.

One of my favorites: “Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.”

John Muir has been called “the father of the national parks,” and I think it is fitting that we take time to recognize his contributions this year, on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. I’ve posted the first of two videos produced for the park service. Both can be found on YouTube:

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