Letter: Foundation of Earth Day

Tuesday, April 18 2017

In 1969 due to mounting pressure of the Vietnam War, pesticides, DDT, freeways, toxic dumps, raw sewage, polluting factories and power plants, loss of wilderness, and extinction of wildlife and the Santa Barbara Oil Spill (third largest after the Gulf spill and the Exxon Valdes) many Americans grew increasingly concerned about the state of the environment.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring published in 1962 had raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and public health.

John McConnell, at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, pioneered the first idea of Earth Day to take place the following year in 1970 to coincide with the Spring equinox. 

Senator Gaylord Nelson also had concerns about the state of environmental protection and was horrified at what he had seen at the Santa Barbara Oil Spill. Senator Nelson was an environmentalist and conservation activist from Wisconsin. He proposed an environmental teach-in day and chose April 22 as a day when students would be in class and it would not conflict with Spring Break or religious holidays. He enrolled the help of Stanford University student Denis Hayes to coordinate the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, and twenty million Americans across the country responded in a peaceful demonstration for the planet. Earth Day has been celebrated every year since and is always held on April 22.

In 1990, Canada joined International Earth Day and six million Canadians and one billion people in 170 countries took part in Earth Day celebrations. It is a day of action which changes human behaviour and provokes policy changes. 

First Nations people practice sustainability and only harvest what they need from land and sea. Recycling through GIRO, community gardens at the Commons, a garden at the elementary school and “grow yer own” food has become a mantra. Sustainable Gabriola is exploring initiatives for clean energy, Gabriola ‘s GERTIE bus helps to lessen our carbon footprint, Gabe Energy has a solar power trial now underway on an island home, Gabriola Streamkeepers have identified streams with salmon fry, and Save Our Shores are committed Gabriolans working for no pipelines and tanker free oceans.

Earth Day is not just about humankind but also about the wildlife we share our island and the planet with. What can we do to lessen our impact on the wildlife we see on a daily basis? Instead of fencing peg-to-peg x 4, leave a portion of your land free. Look for, or allow, indigenous plants to take hold. Have a wild garden if you will, instead of planting grass, which requires watering. You will be pleasantly surprised at the beauty and complexity of the indigenous plants. Take a stroll around the Gabriola Museum grounds where native plants grow and are identified.

Wildlife trees that are not a danger should be left standing as they provide homes for many bird species such as woodpeckers and owls. Wetlands or ponds should be encouraged, as they are beneficial for frogs, newts, dragonflies and snakes. 

Why not, on this Earth Day, look over your property and see what you could create that would benefit wildlife. You will be rewarded many times over. Take a moment and let the magic of this beautiful island capture your soul. 

~ Liz Ciocea

Gabriola Rescue of Wildlife Society (GROWLS.ca)