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This Earth Day Mother Earth Really Needs Your Love

(This blog also appears as the guest blog at Michigan State University Press for April 2024.)

1972 Earth Day Poster © Environmental Action 1972

This month marks the 54th  year of Earth Day—a call to action initiated by visionary leaders whose concern about widespread pollution in the 1960s helped galvanize a global shift in public attitudes about the human relationship with Earth’s living environment and launched environmentalism as a concept.

I was an awkward high school sophomore on the first Earth Day spring in 1970, and I have only vague memories of news stories about student activism in Ann Arbor and big crowds in New York City. Two years later, the Earth Day 1972 poster caught my attention. The image of the pearl of earth suspended in the blackness of space floated above the imperative statement: “Love your Mother” –arresting and beautiful at the same time. It was easy to see that Earth was home, and needed our care, and I wanted to help.

I didn’t know that down the road, my career would give me opportunities to cross paths and work with people who had helped imagine Earth Day and build its momentum, including the now late Wisconsin Senator, Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes, and University of Michigan teach-in organizer Doug Scott. Each of these remarkable leaders brought their talents and tenacity to the cause of a healthier environment and not just for one day in 1970. Over the course of their careers they have made extraordinary contributions to protect the environment and human health, and are environmental heroes in their own right. Their strategic brilliance and expansive vision created new opportunities and offered important lessons that helped stoke my courage to take on daunting campaigns to protect wilderness, public lands, and the waters of the Great Lakes region.

But Earth Day isn’t about storied heroes. It is a reminder that we all depend on Mother Earth every day, and not just on April 22. Now, more than ever, the scale of human impact on our little blue planet threatens the life support systems on earth, and in ways we couldn’t imagine in 1970. There were only 3.7 billion people on earth in 1970; we’re at 8.1 billion today. We all need a healthy biosphere for the air we breathe, and all our water, and food, and we’re just one of earth’s myriad species who need the same things.

Already, 2024 is likely to surpass 2023 as the hottest year in modern history. The sixth mass extinction continues to fray the fabric of life at an astonishing pace. The poor and vulnerable continue to bear the heaviest burden of environmental degradation. These are human-caused problems, and thus the solutions require human leadership and action—action to change public policy and corporate practice, and a commitment to live with respect for and reciprocity with each other and the natural world. We also need ordinary heroes, willing to step up every day to forge acts of love and conviction that will help earth and its inhabitants flourish. I hope you’ll be among them.

Jane Elder is the author of the new book Wilderness, Water, and Ruse: A Journey Toward Great Lakes Resilience, released in April 2024.

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