“I am myself and what is around me, and if I do not save it, it shall not save me.” —José Ortega Y Gasset, Spanish philosopher
This week we mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Early environmental activists created Earth Day to harness the energy of their growing movement and inspire Americans to protect our planet. Cindy Duncan, a veteran CBF educator who was six years old at the time, recalls:
“On April 22, 1970, I was entranced as I watched CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite recap the events of the first Earth Day. Cronkite reported that 20 million Americans had gathered in coast-to-coast rallies demonstrating for a healthy, sustainable environment. Colleges and universities organized protests warning of rapid environmental deterioration. Individuals across the political spectrum, old folks and young, the rich and the poor, united for one cause—a cleaner future. By the end of 1970, the movement had inspired the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and prompted the eventual passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.
Less than a year earlier, I had stared unbelievingly at the same black-and-white RCA television set with silver “rabbit ears” antenna protruding from the top. Images of the Santa Barbara, California, oil spill flashed across the screen. Three million gallons of crude oil spewed into the Santa Barbara Channel from an oil platform, creating a slick 35 miles long off the coast of southern California. Unknown numbers of fish, birds, and animal marine species were killed or harmed. Volunteers attempted to clean the oil-drenched birds, but many died right in front of my eyes as I watched the TV. My heart broke.
Then on June 22, 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire. Water is supposed to put fire out. The sight of a river on fire made a huge impact on me at age six. These events sparked a fire in me that directed my path in life. But I wasn’t the only one. These events ignited a movement to protect the environment that announced itself to the world the following year on the first Earth Day.
By the 20th anniversary in 1990, the event had expanded to include 200 million people in 141 countries coming together to protect our shared home. I was a fifth-grade teacher and committed to helping my students understand how they could be part of the movement. I wanted to inspire them to fall in love with their environment and take ownership of what happens to our planet. We celebrated Earth Day with an eco-friendly lunch that focused on reducing waste. Recycling was a big topic that year. I watched excitedly at the joy on their faces as they measured, counted, and separated recyclables. They took part of something bigger than themselves. For the next 14 years, I taught my students to take responsibility for their actions and their impact on our planet.
In 2004, I took my career from the classroom to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Over the years, I have taught educators and school leaders from Virginia about the importance of encouraging students to love and protect their local environment. We work together to teach students about the direct connection between what they do to their environment and the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
I’ve always emphasized the importance of getting kids outside. In 1970, nearly all children spent hours outdoors, myself included. The connections I built with the natural world as a child are the reason why I felt such angst seeing oil spills and fires. It was this same connection that led me to a career as an educator. In a society where the average child spends 35 hours a week in front of a screen, I wonder if they are building the connections that will allow them to value the environment now and in the future. Are they developing the conservation ethic that will help save our ailing planet?
My favorite quote is from the Senegalese forestry engineer Baba Dioum. It has been my educational philosophy since the beginning of my career. “In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”
Let’s commit this Earth Day to immersing our children in the beauty of nature now so they become the conservationists of the future.”
These upcoming days of celebration are the perfect reminder for us to tune in to the natural world. Earth Day 2020 events may be digital this year, but the goal remains the same: inspire meaningful action for planet Earth. Aim to celebrate the beauty of the planet this week. Honor the science that educates us on how to better care for the Earth. Share the story of nature in your journal and use it to connect with yourself and others.
Coming next week: an entire blog dedicated to Arbor Day and the magic of trees!
Prompt #16: Take Action
Materials Needed: Nature journal or paper, pen or pencil, coloring materials
Assignment: Think of your favorite local outdoor area. Write down and draw the things you enjoy most about this place. What would it be like if this place were developed into a housing complex? Consider how this would affect your community, neighbors, and the environment. List these potential changes. Refer back to the list of your favorite things you just created. Would any be harmed by the new development? What could you do to prevent these changes or lessen their impact on the environmental? Develop an argument stating your concerns and suggestions. Strong arguments also address the opposite side of the issue. In this case, consider at least one positive benefit for building a housing complex.
- Girl Scouts Farthest North Council: Eco Advocate
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Ocean Service Education: Get Smart
- Virginia Department of Environmental Quality: Public Policy and Environmental Management
- Cheasapeake Bay Foundation: Student Actions and Projects
Journal Prompt: (1) Write a persuasive speech that you would give at a town hall meeting about the development of this housing complex. (2) Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your opinion of this project.
Prompt #17: Bringing Earth Day Home
Materials Needed: Nature journal or paper, pen or pencil, coloring materials, internet access
Assignment: Earth Day was created to support and promote environmental protection worldwide. This includes your little piece of the world! Find a safe spot (backyard, porch, by a window) where you can observe the environment outdoors. Spend a few minutes writing about why protecting the Earth is important. Then, begin to notice things in your area that are important for a healthy, thriving ecosystem. Write down at least one action you could take to help protect the Earth.
Journal Prompt: After looking over the additional resources, create an Earth Day window sign. Write about what you hope people will learn from your design.
Prompt #18: Ecological Identity Tree
Materials Needed: Nature journal or paper, pen or pencil, coloring materials
Assignment: Sketch a tree. Make sure to include roots, leaves, branches, and a trunk. For each part of the tree, write words or phrases that correspond to your environmental behavior, actions, and core values. Follow these guidelines:
ROOTS. The roots of your environmental behavior: how or where you played as a child; experiences alone or with family or friends in the past; actions, events, or mentors; positive or negative experiences you had in nature
LEAVES AND BRANCHES. Environmental actions both personal and professional: jobs, volunteering hobbies, personal challenges and goals, environmental actions you plan to take.
TRUNK. The core values that you hold: the trunk connects the roots with the leaves, just as your core values connect your ‘roots’ to your actions. Core values might include things like taking responsibility for the Earth, desire to live simply, or reverence for living things.
- Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Ecological Identity
Journal Prompt: Are there any specific "roots" or past experiences that have made a profound impact on your core values and the actions you’ve taken or plan to take?
We would love you to share your nature journal entries on CBF's Learn Outside Facebook Group!