Making Learning a Part of Earth Day

By Ruth Heil

Did you know that, although 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, only one percent of that water is drinkable? The rest is frozen or filled with salt. Because facts like this foster appreciation for the preciousness of our resources, the founders of Earth Day set environmental learning as the holiday’s cornerstone. They knew that with knowledge comes appropriate action.

Ask “Who started Earth Day?” and you will get multiple answers. Peace activist John McConnell organized a day to celebrate the Earth in San Francisco in 1969. Meanwhile, Senator Gaylord Nelson had been proposing college campus, environmental teach-ins, inspired by gatherings that had been shedding light on the atrocities of the Vietnam War. Then, cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead and various UN ambassadors carried the idea to the international stage.

But Earth Day was a success from the start because of the general public. An estimated 20 million people participated in the first official celebration on April 22, 1970 via events held in nearly every city in the United States. Growing from a highly energized, peace-loving counterculture of the late 1960s, the movement brought together the people who understood our connectedness and thus saw how the hardships of pollution, war, overpopulation, urban sprawl, pesticide misuse, oil spills and exhaust fumes were shared by all. Hippies who promoted peace and love joined with politicians, scientists, economists, soldiers and songwriters – people from all walks of life who knew things had to change – and began demanding that the authorities learn how to run the world without destroying it.

Soon after, landmark environmental legislation was passed: the Clean Water Act, the Clear Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and others, all because of the peoples’ voice.

Now, more than 40 years later, both the issues and desires remain. Still interconnected are the lines between peace, health, education, economics and the ecosystem. Today, we celebrate Earth Day in a variety of ways. We volunteer to pick up litter or plant trees or bike to work. But all remains hinged on education and an awareness of why such actions are meaningful.

This year – on April 22 – why not incorporate learning or teaching into your Earth Day observation. There are many great places throughout the Lehigh Valley for just that. One example is the Nurture Nature Center (NNC) in Easton.

NNC combines science, art and dialog to create a dynamic coming-together. In 2010, it earned the right to host one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (a.k.a. NOAA) Science on a Sphere® exhibits. Now an NNC centerpiece, this lighted globe hangs from the ceiling to visually display Earth-science facts and data in breathtaking fashion.

Among other things, the sphere can depict the connection between a warming planet and a rise in sea level, which complements the Center’s Focus on Floods campaign. As NNC’s director Rachel Hogan Carr said, “Here in the Lehigh Valley, flooding has been identified as the most significant natural hazard facing our communities. Flooding is responsible locally for tens of millions of dollars in damages in recent years.”

While no one can stop a raging river, anyone can learn about flood risk as well as how to protect one’s family. “Anyone who lives near a river or creek should be prepared for flooding. Small tributaries flood all the time. Consider in particular the Monocacy Creek in Bethlehem. That disrupted several festivals and has caused tremendous damage with repetitive flooding in recent years. Flash flooding, in fact, along streams and creeks causes a majority of flood deaths, as people in vehicles try to pass through roads that are flooding very quickly and unexpectedly,” warned Carr.

NNC collects flood-experience stories, engaging people in dialog to determine how we all, city planners included, can help. Also, by learning about your yard’s role in absorbing rainwater, you can become part of the effort to reduce stormwater volume.

An NNC event is scheduled for Saturday, April 26 – right after Earth Day 2013 – featuring the opening of a Valley-wide art show as well as the sale of local foods. You can also check out a sphere presentation almost any Saturday at 12 p.m., or you can participate in one of many Thursday evening programs. Visit or call 610-253-4432 for details.

That first Earth Day in 1970 was fed by a generation of young people who recognized a flaw in the status quo and banded together to fix it. Since then, much has been done to protect our precious resources, but issues still remain. Just as it was then, the future is in everyone’s hands, and just as Earth Day was created by all who loved the Earth then, it will be reinvented and celebrated, year after year, by all who love the Earth today.

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