By the spring of 1970, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River had caught on fire, disabling a couple of railroad bridges. Dozens of people had been killed in their sleep by industrial air that descended on Pennsylvania towns at night. Like my dad, I was a Boy Scout. I could tell nature wasn’t what it used to be.
The US had become a deadly place— for black leaders and anyone who wanted to drink the water or breathe. So when Earth Day was organized I was all in. As a native to what was the small town of Washington, DC, I rode my bicycle all the way down to the Washington Monument and the big Earth Day stage. The speakers were trying to shake us up, to get us all talking about our planet. And it worked. The Environmental Protection Agency was created along with the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other environmental legislation.
This is the 45th Earth Day, and I hope it’s the biggest one so far because, today, even the horrific ongoing effects of pollution are being overwhelmed by the Earth’s main issue: climate change. It’s as big as the planet itself and we’ve hardly begun to do things about it. During my lifetime, the Earth’s human population has grown from less than three billion to almost seven and a quarter billion.
We are all breathing and burning the Earth’s one thin atmosphere. If you could somehow drive a car straight up, you’d be in outer space in less than an hour. That’s the problem everyone: a great many people and not all that much air to live in.
Often people ask me “What can I do about climate change?” Well madams and sirs, this Earth Day, just talk about it. Talk about climate change. Earth Day’s purpose was and is to raise awareness, to get people fired up. We are living in an extraordinary time. The climate science is clear, yet many of our leaders succeed in denying it.
They run for government office, but seem to hate government and what we can do together. By talking about pollution and climate change on Earth Day, we can turn things around. I hope this year more of us than ever are talking so that more of us are more aware than ever of what we are doing to the air we share. Together, we can change the world.