Monday, April 22nd, is the 49th annual Earth Day. Earth Day began in 1970 amid the height of counterculture and a surging ecological consciousness, after then-Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson witnessed the horrific environmental destruction of the 1969 Union Oil spill in Santa Barbara, California (now home to Pacific Standard).
In 2017, Kate Wheeling and Max Ufberg wrote an oral history of the oil spill for Pacific Standard. It was the largest oil spill up to that point, and it left wildlife, pristine beaches, and swaths of the ocean covered in oil. The aftermath mobilized residents of Santa Barbara and accelerated the rising tide of environmentalism across the country.
Members of Congress collaborated across party lines to create the first Earth Day in April of 1970. And on that date, 20 million Americans of all sectors of society demonstrated for a healthy, sustainable environment. In the years that followed, Congress pursued bipartisan environmental legislation, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Today, even as the Earth faces an onslaught of environmental attacks, from the threat of mining on indigenous lands in Brazil to millions of deaths each year as a result of air pollution, more than one billion people will participate in Earth Day to celebrate the planet's natural bounty—and demonstrate for a healthier environment.
This Earth Day, check out these Pacific Standard stories that document both the struggles and triumphs of environmentalism in the 21st century.
The Hidden Battle Threatening the Future of America's Wild Places
Adam Federman records his hike up southern Utah's Mt. Tukuhnikivatz and explores insidious threats to America's wild lands:
But far more than the fate of this single flower hangs in the balance. The tiny La Sal daisy stands at the heart of an increasingly pitched battle over the future of public lands in the American West, one that could redefine the very character of America's wild places.
Reintroducing the Grizzly to California
Jeremy Miller traces the virtual extermination of the grizzly bear in California and current efforts to reintroduce it:
An estimated 10,000 grizzly bears once inhabited the Golden State, from the high peaks of the Sierra to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Today most of the roughly 1,500 grizzlies remaining in the Lower 48 are confined to parts of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, in an area comprising a mere 2 percent of their former range. They are remnants of the estimated 50,000 grizzlies that roamed the interior of the continental United States in the 1800s.
Are We in Danger of Being Smashed by an Asteroid?
No, but climate change presents plenty of risks, says Francie Diep:
Why would men so clearly concerned about leaving a habitable Earth for future generations deny an important threat to it? What's the risk of Earth-destroying asteroids anyway? How does it compare to climate change?
The Earth's Oceans Are Drowning in Plastic
In an interview with Michiel Roscam Abbing, the author of Plastic Soup, Mike Gaworecki learns about our plastic problem—and initiatives to fix it:
Try to live without plastic for a while, as promoted by Plastic Free July, an Australian initiative that developed a useful toolbox to do so. Also try, for example, to combine your daily jogging or walk the dog with cleaning up the street litter you encounter along the way.
10 Lies That Planet Earth Is Telling You
Last but certainly not least, check out Ryan O'Hanlon's classic 2013 Earth Day article in which he fact-checks the Earth:
It takes more than 365 days to orbit the sun. To be precise: 365.2564 days. We make up for it by adding an extra day to February every fourth year. And you thought playing a kazoo at midnight was already pretty dumb.