Earth Day Celebration in Merida, Yucatan.

In 1970, before the days of Twitter, Facebook or email, United States Senator Gaylord Nelson was frustrated in his effort to arouse environmental concerns and indignation. But while reading about anti-Vietnam War teach-ins on college campuses across the country, an idea came to him…environmental teach-ins combined with civic actions.

Nelson set about organizing schools, universities, and organizations across the country to participate in mass grassroots activism in support of environmental issues. Consequently on that April 22nd, the first Earth Day, over 20 million Americans took part in some form of civic action, cleaning up river banks, demonstrating against polluters, teaching, discussing, and fussing over environmental actions. It was exactly what Nelson has hoped for, taking up, as he put it, the battle “to restore a proper relationship between man and his environment, between man and other living creatures…to pay attention to the most important challenge the human species faces on the planet.”

Nelson recognized that environmental rescue would require a long, sustained, political, moral, ethnical, and financial commitment- -far beyond any effort made before. He understood that Earth Day was the force that frightened Richard Nixon to become an environmental president, creating the Environmental Protection Agency, and establishing an atmosphere that would allow Nelson himself to sign off on environmental policies such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act, all future models for worldwide action. Nelson never gave up on the possibility of humans to do the right thing, make the necessary sacrifices for this planet…. nor do the more than one billion estimated activists in some 200 countries around the world where Earth Day is still commemorated.

Mérida Verde also believes in the power of collective social support for restoration and sustainability. Since 2009, our first Earth Day event, we continue to observe Earth Day as a special time for reflection and civic engagement. We remain cautiously hopeful that education about the many ways of reducing carbon emissions and a tough look at climate reality on Earth Day may awaken our collective and individual responsibility toward sustainability. For like Senator Nelson so many years ago, we believe this is the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced…and time is running out.

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