Earth Day is April 22, but environmental activists and officials want to see earth-friendly activities observed year-round.
On Tuesday, Jennifer Adkins, executive director of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, recognized the many accomplishments made since the first Earth Day 44 years ago.
In 1970, Earth Day was created to bring attention to the idea of environmental reform, with the hope of applying scientific advancements to improve management of the environment and changing the relationship between humans and their environment.
Since then, the impact has been a change in the public’s awareness of their environment, the creation of organizations who advocate for environmentally-sound practices and policies and the implementation of these ideas.
“In hindsight, this makes a lot of sense, but it was a big change,” Adkins said. “Like any meaningful change, it takes time.”
Much accomplished, much to do
Adkins explained that for the changes to be implemented, time was needed for the study of ecological systems, for research and development to be initiated, and for the application of reworked infrastructure.
The good news: To some degree, it worked. Rivers are cleaner, aquatic species are again inhabiting local water bodies, and riverfronts are being reclaimed for recreation and development.
“We began using what we were learning to introduce people to new ideas for how they can be good stewards of land and water,” she said.
But, of course, their work is far from over. DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara noted that 86 percent of Delaware waterways are not safe for swimming
As some suggested on Tuesday, the most challenging work lies ahead.
“We’ve picked the low-hanging fruit,” observed Shawn Garvin, regional administrator for the EPA.
The most obvious sources of pollution are being addressed, which makes current concerns – contaminated soil, airborne pollutants and runoff from paved surfaces – more vexing.
In addition, Garvin described climate change and carbon emissions as being high on his watch list.
“These are the problems we are facing today,” Adkins said. “To solve them, we need everyone to play a part.”
Earth Day everyday
Speakers at Wilmington’s 11th annual Earth Day event had a variety of suggestions to observe Earth Day the other 364 days of the year.
O’Mara plugged Gov. Jack Markell’s clean water bill, which so far seems to be treading water with Delaware legislators. In addition, he pointed to practical steps, in the forms of making fewer commutes, opting for more fuel-efficient vehicles, and walking whenever possible.
Deb Brown, president of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, asked Delawareans to “do their share for cleaner air” by using an alternate form of transportation during Air Quality Awareness week, which runs from Apr. 28 and May 2.
To assist in spreading the message of Earth Day, David Raymond – known to many as the original Phillie Phanatic – created a new mascot known as “Tropo,” who will be made available at no cost to elementary schools.
Whatever the means, the speakers agreed that collective action will have the greatest impact.
“A lot of great things started with the energy that was put into the first Earth Day,”Garvin said, “and that same energy and that same leadership and that same involvement by us, the public … is really what is going to make a difference.”