Nature More Important Than Ever to Celebrate This Earth Day
On the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, there's more work to be done.
Wednesday, April 22 marks the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, and serves as an ideal time for us to pause and reflect on just how important nature is to us. This is especially true now, as we navigate through the need for social distancing, concerns about the health of loved ones, challenges of closures, and longer-term impacts to the economy. As we look outside our windows at the flowering trees and migrating birds, nature is a safe and low-cost source of escape and solace for so many of us during this crisis. This is something we should remember and continue to appreciate looking forward.
I've experienced first-hand how much the natural world offers a sanctuary for reflection and inspiration during trying times. Like so many of us, I grew up visiting both my local parks and our incredible national parks, I love to explore remote places during vacations with my own family, and during this current crisis, I am comforted by the rhythms of spring that are unfolding around us, even as we stay inside to stay safe. There is something centering and hopeful in the expansive views, and in seeing life go on with plants, birds and other wildlife. Nature offers profound perspective on what is possible and what is important.
We owe a debt of gratitude to those who established Earth Day, which set the stage for an improved natural world. People like Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day; Rachel Carson, the author of Silent Spring; and Chicago’s own Hazel Johnson, known as “the mother of the environmental justice movement,” brought attention to intensifying environmental issues of the time, such as air and water pollution. Their efforts, along with those of many others, led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency and numerous laws that protect our environment, including The Clean Air Act, The Endangered Species Act, The Clean Water Act, The Federal Land Policy and Management Act and many more.
These initiatives helped to set us on a trajectory that we should continue to sustain over the next 50 years and beyond.
With the support of your representatives, The Great American Outdoors Act could soon be added to that list of foundational environmental laws. Introduced by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, the Act would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) as well as help address the backlog of maintenance needs in our national parks.
Roughly 13 special sites in Illinois have been protected and maintained with help from LWCF. This includes places like Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge and Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. LWCF is not funded by taxpayer dollars, but rather by royalties that oil companies pay to the government for offshore drilling. In addition to protecting parks and natural areas, it’s also important to help ensure that places like these, and the other 400-some sites across the country managed by the National Park Service, receive needed maintenance that has been deferred for many years because of lack of funding. The problems caused by this upkeep backlog are adversely impacting parks, visitors, and surrounding communities. These initiatives not only protect and conserve important open spaces, but also support the economy through associated tourism and jobs.
If passed, the Great American Outdoors Act would be one of the most important environmental victories of the last 50 years—and something the founders of Earth Day would celebrate.
Just as our environmental leaders came together at a time of crisis in the past, I now see around me communities banding together in a demonstration of collaboration, strength, and resilience. It’s been uplifting to see people rally around a cause and cooperate for the common good. I expect to be equally encouraged by the resilience we’ll see in the months ahead.
And while there is still much left to do, we know that nature, too, is resilient. This is evidenced by the vast improvements we’ve seen in some aspects of the environment over the last 50 years, such as the return of the bald eagle. It reminds us that there is always hope, and that is something we all need more of right now.
In celebration of Earth Day, let’s honor and appreciate nature and all that it brings to our lives.