Happy Earth Day


“Our heedless and destructive acts enter into the vast cycles of the earth and in time return to bring hazard to ourselves.”  –Rachel Carson, testifying before a congressional subcommittee 70 years ago


Earth Day is likely one of the more underrated holidays in the country. Americans might recycle a little bit more on April 22; maybe pick up trash in their neighborhood; the more ambitious might plant a tree — like President Richard Nixon did at the White House in 1970 during the first federally recognized Earth Day.

Those are all great, and to be encouraged, but considering we only have one Earth — and considering the shape it’s in — it’s surprising more isn’t made of the day.

That is why we were encouraged to see the Island community come out this past Saturday at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum for the big day.

The Island has long held an annual beach cleanup — for more than three decades, we understand. But new this year, the museum held what they hope will be an annual educational afterparty. 

Nearly 20 conservation and environmental groups from the Vineyard were on hand on Saturday, providing information about their advocacy and efforts: There was a touch tank demonstrating the importance of shellfish on water quality; there was a moment to recognize that the land the museum sits on is land of the Wampanoag tribe; there was singing and drumming. 

There was enthusiasm.

The celebration was good to see, especially these days. The state of the environment can seem overwhelming. Our very means of life — driving cars, heating our homes, keeping the lights on — are largely powered by the very thing that is leading to larger storms, rising seas, fires, floods, and general doom and gloom. That can feel awful — and foreboding. 

But as Joan Baez famously said, “Action is the antidote to despair.” 

The origins of Earth Day itself are centered around beating back those ominous feelings. 

The environmental movement started as a teach-in on college campuses in 1969. At the time, horrendous smog clouded major cities from automobile and industrial pollution, rivers were on fire, there was acid rain, and then the country’s largest oil spill in Santa Barbara killed some 3,500 seabirds. 

The college sit-in eventually landed the name Earth Day, which garnered widespread media attention. And on April 22, millions of Americans took to the streets to demonstrate against decades of largely unchecked industrial development. The movement would help Nixon create the Environmental Protection Agency. 

But while the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, the movement has its roots in the decade before, when Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring.” It was not her first book, nor was it the first to dive into environmental issues. 

But “Silent Spring” caught on. It was credited with connecting the masses to the dangers of spraying pesticides and other chemicals, and showing how mankind was directly impacting the environment, and itself.

In particular, Carson highlighted the dangers of DDT, and how the mosquito spray endangered animals across the food chain. It was known to weaken the eggshells of osprey, which decimated their populations. 

We can imagine that Carson was overwhelmed, too, with the state of the environment at the time. 

But today, with the clampdown on spraying DDT, the osprey population has made a miraculous recovery. The species has been arriving on the Island in recent weeks, with its distinct and warming calls. 

The movement to protect ospreys can serve as a symbol of hope for our current environmental crisis. We don’t need another Rachel Carson to help us understand the impacts of climate change. We see it every day. 

What we do need are events like the one hosted by the museum — people coming together to understand the benefits of nature, its importance, and its connection to who we are.

And while the single event might not save the world, we are encouraged that Islanders are coming together. It can only help.


  1. Surely Carson was aware that the greatest threats to humans are diseases such as malaria, typhus, yellow fever, Chagas’s disease, African sleeping sickness, and a number of types of Leishmaniasis and tick-borne bacterial and rickettsial diseases. She deliberately avoids mentioning any of these, because they could be controlled only by the appropriate use of insecticides, especially DDT. Carson evidently preferred to sacrifice those millions of lives rather than advocate any usage of such chemicals. DDT saved millions of lives from Malaria.

    • andy– surely you know that god created more than one creature to inhabit the earth.
      You only mention diseases that affect one species.
      So DDT is now banned, we have 8 billion humans on the planet, and birds also.
      And you mention the word “appropriate”.
      Do you actually think that it is appropriate to drive hundreds or thousands of god’s creatures to extinction for the sake of saving a few million people ?
      When the pandemic was raging , you didn’t seem to be too concerned with the deaths of millions of people who “were going to die anyway”.
      And let me point out that those millions are only an insignificant portion of humanity, to paraphrase your attitude about COVID deaths.
      If you don’t have any respect for the earth , you should at least have some respect for god’s creatures.

  2. Mr Keller, no creatures were driven to extinction due to DDT, some were harmed and populations reduced. The absence of DDT however caused the death of 100million people from Malaria. Yes I value human life more than animal life and saving a person rather than a Michigan Robin is preferrable. DDT is still used all over the world except in the US and a few other countries and it continues to save lives. As for your errant comment about covid lives, we now know that the 2 year shutdown prevented virtually nothing and caused huge economic and mental health distress.

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