Earth Day and Environmental Justice: Connected and Working Together Side-By-Side

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Sparks for Environmental Movement

On April 22nd, the world will celebrate the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. Conceived by former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day was established to focus on creating a healthier environment by protecting our planet and its resources. Perhaps, Earth Day set the tone for environmental protection, education, and advocacy. Senator Nelson said the idea of Earth Day evolved over a period of seven years starting in 1962. This was a time when the fight for civil rights characterized activism against injustice, brutality, and dehumanization, and a time when Woodstock represented a peace and love generation.

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Also in 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring challenged the widespread use of synthetic chemical pesticides and revealed their ecological impacts. The book changed the way many viewed the environment and captured the social consciousness of populations around the globe. Some say that its publication sparked the modern day environmental movement, while others credit Earth Day for accomplishing that. Either way, both events increased awareness of the connection between human health and environmental safety in the United States.


Earth Day Prompts Look at Unequal Burden

In the public health arena, we see a connection between healthy environments and healthy populations. Earth Day helps us focus on ways to support a healthy environment and be more environmentally conscious. It also prompts us to consider the unequal burdens placed upon low-income and minority populations who are more vulnerable to the effects of unhealthy environments.

Perhaps, then it would be safe to say that Earth Day was critical to the environmental justice movement. The national movement, in which millions of Americans stood against toxic waste, pollution, and wildlife extinction.

In 1991, leaders from around the world attended a National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. The summit focused on the need for democracy and environmental protection and resulted in the creation of “The Principles of Environmental Justice,” which defines the environmental justice movement to this day. The first principle states “Environmental Justice affirms the sacredness of Mother Earth, ecological unity and the interdependence of all species, and the right to be free from ecological destruction”. This principle and many others in the document are parallel to the principles of Earth Day, including protection from environmental hazards, honoring the environment, and honoring human health. These principles support responsible, sustainable use of our earth and its resources while honoring the human population.

As we celebrate Earth Day around the world, let us not forget the vulnerable populations in many communities who bear more than their share of the burden of environmental hazards. Let us continue to strive to be inclusive at every level of decision making and to consume as little of the earth’s resources as possible. And let us continue to assist communities and address environmental injustices that degrade the earth and harm people’s health. On April 22nd, let’s recommit to a conscious, collective responsibility to the earth.

One Planet. One Earth. This is our common ground.

Happy Earth Day!


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Page last reviewed: November 2, 2015
Page last updated: November 2, 2015