Earth Day 2009

This billboard was spotted on the highway heading in to Nashville, Tennessee in March, 2009. The sign was erected by the Tennessee-based Lindquist-Environmental Appalachian Fellowship (LEAF) with help from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

This billboard was spotted on the highway heading in to Nashville, Tennessee in March, 2009. The sign was erected by the Tennessee-based Lindquist-Environmental Appalachian Fellowship (LEAF) with help from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Americans celebrated the first nationwide Earth Day 39 years ago, in 1970.

Usually we remember such events when they fall on a decade or a century mark, and of course, next year’s 40th anniversary will be on everyone’s calendar.

It’s important to remember, however, that by this time 40 years ago, a nationwide Earth Day movement was already in the works. Then-Senator Gaylord Nelson had been planning the event since 1963, when he talked President John F. Kennedy into a five-day, 11-state conservation tour. There were offices being staffed and meetings being planned. Things were happening.

They say every overnight success is years, or even decades, in the making. This year, as we celebrate the environmental victories at Blair Mountain, W. Va. or in the EPA permitting process, let’s remember that this has been a painstaking, step-by-step process of researching injustice, arousing public opinion, building coalitions, and trying to compel reform.

Next year, on Earth Day, we hope to be celebrating a major victory with the Clean Water Protection Act, which would ban all mountaintop removal coal mining. There has never been a better time to go forward, but we need to remember what is at stake: Appalachia is rapidly losing its wealth of biodiversity and clean water.

So, yes, it’s a very happy 39th Earth Day. But let’s not recline on a few temporary laurels.

Herculean efforts are needed; every voice is necessary, now more than ever. Saving Appalachia is not going to be easy.

But if we pull together, by next year’s 40th anniversary, we might have a worthy story to tell our grandchildren.

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