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The Origins of the Global Sustainability Awareness

Updated: Mar 18

By Kevin Bolland

Orange, California

If I had asked you the question, “What day is Earth Day?” would you know the answer? Well, now you can say you do--April 22 will mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day!

First, the interesting part:

On the first official Earth Day in 1970, another major sociopolitical movement was occurring, especially within the United States. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 had recently been enacted by President Nixon, and California released the California Environmental Quality Act not long afterwards. America, and the rest of the world, was becoming more aware of the impacts that we have on our environment. As a society, we were gaining access to the perspective of people who lived farther and farther away from one another, and we were becoming more aware of ourselves.

In 1969, the Cuyahoga River, located in a highly industrial area, caught fire due to the quantity of flammable pollutants released into the river by unregulated businesses and sparks from a passing train. This was not the first time that it had happened--in fact, the Cuyahoga River had caught fire at least 12 times before that! To residents, employees, and local businesses, this was neither a common, nor uncommon event. When the rest of the country began to see films and photographs of the event, we began to recognize how we were impacting our environment. This is but one case of similar tragic environmental pollution and destruction in the United States. I could discuss the near extinction of buffalo, or the pollution of Lake Washington, or the dams we built on almost every major river in the country, but I think you get the idea.

So what, some people might say. A river caught fire. A dam was built. A bunch of animals were killed.

Your point might be something like this: Humans have destroyed whole swaths of forests, drained entire rivers, mined mountains, and have polluted nearly every nook and cranny of our world before 1969, right?

Well, yes, and no.

Yes, in the respect that humans have always farmed, mined, and developed our environment to make ourselves comfortable to the maximum extent that we can. That's not news though.

But the major point I want to make is no, we did not realize quite how significant, how measurable, or how profound our impact on the earth was before this point. Very few “environmental studies” had been performed. This does not mean that we have not appreciated nature before this point, though. We have celebrated the earth for much longer than 50 years. But I want to prove the point that it is only recently that we have truly focused on the sustainability of this entire equation. Our resources are physically limited. That is a fact. Some people knew this before 1970, but not many people knew, or could do anything about it.

Earth Day was all about changing that, and that is why it is such an important note on a global scale. We recognized from one major point of view, that we have significant impacts on the planet. We also recognized at the same time that we could actually do something about it!

That is the turning point.

Sustainability, as a movement, is a culture shift. It is a change of your perspective from that of thoughtless consumption, to that of budgeting resources for the future (but trust me, that doesn't necessarily mean you have to sacrifice or go without. I'll discuss this more in a moment).

This has many, far-reaching implications that can positively impact your financial, social, and environmental setting beyond what you may initially think. What is the definition of budgeting after all?

Simple planning and awareness of our resources is a major intent of Earth Day. You can celebrate Earth Day by picking up garbage, or volunteering, or doing whatever you want, but I would encourage you to consider this main point:

Our planet is amazing and we are not only at the mercy of our environment, but we are also capable of controlling how we use our planets limited resources, thus investing in our collective future.

By controlling, budgeting, or planning out how we use resources, we can be more efficient, save more money, come together socially in this time of social distancing, and make major strides towards creating a sustainable system.

Again, this doesn't mean sacrifice. In fact, I would say the opposite can be true. If we come together to help one another by making conscious choices, we can share the resources we have for the betterment of the world. By aiming for sustainability, we are aiming for social cooperation, financial growth, and environmental conservation all at the same time. Although it may be a difficult target to hit, I believe that every person who is on-board with that goal is helping the rest of the world achieve it.

Thanks for reading!

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