On April 22, 1970, the world experienced its first Earth Day. Initially an event with nearly 20 million participants in the U.S., Earth Day has grown to include an estimated 1 billion participants from countries all around the world.
“People of all nationalities and backgrounds will voice their appreciation for the planet and demand its protection,” a message on the official Earth Day website proclaims. “Together we will stand united for a sustainable future and call upon individuals, organizations and governments to do their part.”
When you think about it, a lot has changed since the 1970s — and for the better. Cars and appliances run far more efficiently than they did a few decades ago, using far less fossil fuel and electricity. Meanwhile, the notoriously polluted byways and waterways of the New York metro area (who among us from that unenlightened era can soon forget the stench of the Meadowlands from the New Jersey Turnpike on a hot summer’s day?) have been largely reclaimed, cleaned up and are once again full of wildlife that can thrive there without fear of death and disease from toxic waste.
Beyond the urban landscape, there’s much to celebrate on the East End on this Earth Day as well. For one, let’s be thankful for the preservation efforts that, since the 1970s, have maintained the rural areas we still have in the face of rampant development pressures (anyone remember the proposed Montauk Highway bypass that would have cut through Sag Harbor’s southern reaches?)
But alas, there’s always garbage to be found on the streets and beaches of our fair towns and villages. So here on the East End, there are Earth Day celebrations aplenty and many of them come with an opportunity to do a little community service along the way. From the Great East End Clean-Up — for which Southampton Town residents will comb through over 70 locations with pokers and trash bags in hand — to local beach cleanups and environmentally friendly activities put on by organizations like the South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center (SoFo) and Concerned Citizens of Montauk (CCOM), there is plenty to choose from.
Earth Day has long been popular and we expect a good number of people on the East End to show up this weekend and do their part for the environment — even if it’s simply taking that extra few moments to bend down and pick up a piece of litter on our morning walks. Every little bit helps.
The public’s awareness of environmental issues on April 22 is admirable and important. However, there are 364 other days in the year that are not given Earth Day distinction. What happens then?
This Earth Day weekend, take a mental snapshot of the efforts you see around you to protect the environment, and work to make those practices a more regular part of your daily routine. We’re not saying you have to drive to Sagg Main every morning with a poker and a trash bag and comb the beach looking for scattered debris. (We know, we have day jobs, too.)
Rather, take time during the rest of the year to pick up trash when you encounter it, for example. Do your part to eliminate plastic from the waste stream and buy reusable cloth shopping bags to keep in the trunk for when you’re out and about. And don’t leave your car idling when you “just run in to grab something.” Yes, we know it’ll only take a second, but those brief moments still create unwanted emissions.
The point is, Earth Day will inevitably end; but the need to keep our environment clean and healthy will not.
This weekend, don’t pick up trash and debris just because it’s Earth Day; clean up the environment around you because it’s the right thing to do. Because this is where we all live and we don’t want to see it ruined.