On April 22, 1970, air and water pollution was completely unregulated and the United States lacked a government agency responsible for overseeing environmental protection. There was no formal way of protecting endangered species and there were certainly no regulations on vehicle fuel efficiency. But a movement was born that day which soon changed all that.
Earth Day 1970 was not just about water and trees and endangered species, though — it was also about people. It was a historic coming together of many diverse groups and communities who had previously been fighting in isolation from one another. And the issues that converged that day were broad — many groups were fighting as much for equity and justice as they were for environmental protection and conservation. However, the diversity of that coalescence was not long-lasting.
While the environmental movement has often been criticized for being a predominantly white movement, it can trace its roots back to the Civil Rights and anti-war protest movements
. Still, a growing awareness among communities of color that the environmental movement was not representing their interests equally resulted in the birth of the environmental justice movement in the years following the first Earth Day. Whether Earth Day has sufficiently recognized issues of equity and environmental justice since then is perhaps debatable, but one of the lasting legacies of Earth Day and the environmental justice movement has been the widespread recognition that all people are a part
of the earth, not apart
from it (or one another).
In honor of Earth Day 2011, I will be hosting an event to celebrate the many diverse ways that Pittsburghers have created to reconnect with nature and share it equitably with the whole community. The Pittsburgh Mini-Climate Ride
— which I have already written about several times here
— is not just about getting outside and playing in nature (though hopefully there is some of that, too). It is about recognizing that we have a responsibility to the earth as well as to one another to use the earth's bounty responsibly, sustainably and equitably.
So what more sustainable and equitable activity than a group bicycle ride? The Pittsburgh Mini-Climate Ride — a fundraiser in support of the Brita Climate Ride 2011
— will be connecting people to community organizations working to make energy efficiency accessible to all people regardless of income, streets safer to bike on in all neighborhoods, healthy and organic local food available to all communities, and thriving ecosystems present in lower-income neighborhoods as well as wealthy ones across Pittsburgh.
On Saturday, April 23, we will be biking to celebrate a healthy and sustainable natural world, as well as an equitable and just human one. Of course, the point is that you cannot have one of these without the other.
There are many exciting Earth Day events taking place across Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania this week, including all those leading up to the UN's World Environment Day on June 5
. Perhaps what we need more of, though, are events that go beyond just environmental restoration and cleanup; we need more events that harness the intent of the original Earth Day, bringing people together from all backgrounds and perspectives to create a more just and healthy planet.
The upcoming Brita Climate Ride
is an awesome example of an event addressing the systemic problems of environmental degradation and social inequity. The Pittsburgh Mini-Climate Ride April 23 at 1:00 p.m. is striving to acknowledge community efforts to address these same issues at the local level, connecting all of Pittsburgh's diverse neighborhoods. The earth is more than just the environment, so events to celebrate it must likewise celebrate all of the earth, human culture and diversity included.
If there is anything we can learn from the natural world, it's that diversity is essential to a healthy and resilient community. To truly honor the earth, let's make Earth Day 2011 as much a celebration of human diversity as natural diversity, and as much about environmental justice as environmental stewardship.