Earth Day should be a reminder to us all

The year 1970 was eventful. Consider some notable happenings:

— President Nixon ordered U.S. forces to cross into neutral Cambodia, which widened the Vietnam War. His decision ignited nationwide riots which led to the Kent State shootings and four dead students and others injured.

— A jury found the Chicago Seven defendants not guilty of conspiring to incite a riot, in charges stemming from the violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The social climate was smoldering.

— President Nixon signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act into law, banning cigarette television advertisements in the United States starting Jan., 1, 1971.

— Ronald Reagan was reelected governor of California; Jimmy Carter was elected governor of Georgia. You know the rest.

— Also: postal workers went on a nationwide two-week strike; Paul McCartney left the Beatles; Ford introduced the Pinto (yuck!) and American Motors Corporation the Gremlin (double yuck!); Three Rivers Stadium opened in Pittsburgh; the Browns beat Joe Namath and the New York Jets during the debut of Monday Night Football game before 85,000 in Cleveland; and, oh yeah, the first episode of “All My Children” aired on ABC.

And, there was another lasting date of significance. Earth Day got its start on April 22. Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin — in a stroke of brilliance — proposed the idea after seeing damage done by a 1969 widespread oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif.

He inspired what was called a national “teach-in” which educated the public about the environment. A staff numbering a mere 85 concerned citizens was able to rally 20 million Americans across the United States on April 20, 1970 to deliver the message about environmental issues. Those involved were friends of the planet. Their messages resonate nearly a half-century later. Earth Day turns 49 today. What began as a grassroots movement rapidly sprawled and covered our nation like a lush landscape. Earth Day is an annual event created to celebrate the planet’s environment and raise public awareness about pollution. Today there will be worldwide rallies, conferences, outdoor activities and service projects.

Locally, there were many related projects. Schools observe Earth Day. Last weekend, community-minded volunteers help spruce up our downtown area during the annual clean-up day in Salem. Thank you to all of those participating. The recycling bins near city hall are always full — signs of eco-friendly residents. Our planet, certainly our country has come a long way. All you have to do is walk or drive around to see that. Think back several decades and in our area alone you can see that air pollution has been virtually eliminated. Go south a ways and take a drive along the Ohio River which used to puke up pollution as did mills on its shores. Much good has been done.

But you can always walk or drive around and see that there are those who just don’t get it. The slobs litter in every imaginable way. They are without consciences.

There are also businesses and industries that need to be vigilant about environmental standards. How many of us ever heard of “climate change” until recent years? Take a walk along a nature trail. You would think that is the last place you would find litter considering those using it. But it happens a lot. Each of us can do a part to help out, however little you think it might be. Because it really isn’t “little” at all. Dispose of waste properly. Pick up other’s litter. If you are a smoker, don’t flick your butts out the window while driving. That’s pathetic. Keeping our planet clean should be a no-brainer. As an example, just think of how much fresher and cleaner Salem would look if each able-bodied citizen took out a single garbage bag and walked the streets until it was filled. Make it a family project.

Another important aspect of embracing Earth Day is education. Those of a certain age should remember a message-for-the-times song released in May 1970 by legendary folk rockers Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. It was called “Teach Your Children.”

That message could be invoked when it comes to a duty all of us should heed: passage of the importance of caring for our environment down to our children and grandchildren. After all, they are going to inherit this planet. They deserve a clean world and it should be incumbent on all of us to show them how. Earth Day should be every single day. Help bring a smile to Mother Nature’s face and do your part. Enough “littles” can mean a lot.