by E. Lynn Grayson, Nijman•Franzetti LLP; Chicago Bar Association 2nd Vice President

Today people around the world will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The first Earth Day brought together 20 million Americans to fight for improved environmental protections. Americans at the time had growing concerns related to smog, pesticide use and water pollution as well as the Santa Barbara oil spill and Cleveland’s burning Cuyahoga River. It led to monumental environmental policy changes in the U.S. resulting in the passage of critical new environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, among others. It also led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Since then, Earth Day has gone global rallying 1 billion people to take action to continue the fight for protection of the environment and natural resources and now to combat climate change.

Earth Day will look a little different this year as we alter our activities to help stop the spread of COVID-19. While we stay in and practice social distancing, there is much we can do to join in and celebrate Earth Day 2020. The City of Chicago has done a wonderful job of making our #StayAtHome Earth Day celebration a great one. Key activities and resources include:

  1. Shedd Aquarium: Learn more about food waste, sustainability, protecting the environmental and addressing climate change at  https://www.sheddaquarium.org/stories/earth-day-2020
  2. University of Illinois at Chicago: Get the latest insights on the problems posed by plastic waste in the environment and support UIC’s #PlasticFreeUIC campaign at https://sustainability.uic.edu/earthday2020/
  3. Museum of Science and Industry: Participate in a film screening of the new climate change documentary The Human Element followed by special conversation with James Balog, a photographer whose work illustrating climate change is displayed in MSI’s exhibit, Extreme Ice, at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/earth-day-film-night-and-qa-with-james-balog-registration-102395250952
  4. WTTV: Check out this new story Earth is Turning 50. Here’s How to Participate Via Virtual Events highlighting national and local Earth Day celebration activities at  https://news.wttw.com/2020/04/21/earth-day-turning-50-here-s-how-participate-virtual-events

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, it is a good time to question whether the U.S. environmental protection system is up to today’s challenges and how well it has done in addressing problems that were the priority in the 1970s. Many believe it is time for a change and I agree. Environmental protection must move beyond an end-of-pipe, industrial-pollution mindset and embrace the type of systemic change needed to address climate change and foster sustainability in the 21st century.

Earth Day reminds us there is much more we can do to protect the environment, safeguard our natural resources and combat climate change. For that reason, every day should be Earth Day.