Earth Day

Kids play with an Earth Ball at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, near the Cuyahoga River that caught fire several times in history, most famously in 1969. 

Editor’s Note: This is a column on area watersheds by Blyden Potts and guest columnists to spread awareness of the area’s tributaries and the efforts of area volunteers to keep them clean.


Last year was the 50th anniversary of celebrating April 22 as Earth Day, but many events were canceled due to the pandemic. Things will still be a bit subdued this year, but at least we are back to holding events.

The first Earth Day, in 1970, helped popularize a growing environmental movement. It came just a few years after Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring.” Earth Day was proposed in 1969, a year that had what was at that time the largest oil spill in U.S. waters, off the California coast, and a famous fire on the Cuyahoga River in Ohio. Also that year, Congress drafted the National Environmental Policy Act, signed into law in 1970. Other environmental legislation followed, including Clean Air Acts, Clean Water Acts, emissions standards for cars, and many others.

Remember when we still used lead paint and leaded gasoline? We live in a far cleaner and environmentally-conscious world due to that half century of environmental movement, but Earth Day is less about celebrating past achievements than it is about reminding ourselves how to love the Earth and improve our relationship with it in the future.

In 1970, the world’s population was around 3.7 billion people. Today, it is more than double that, about to break 8 billion. While the rate is slowing, the population is still growing. It is expected to reach 10 billion before the 100th Earth Day, if we survive the existential crisis of global climate change.

All those people put a strain on the planet. Only about a fifth of the globe is habitable. About half of that is already used for agriculture, and over a third is forests. People need space to live and to grow food, but the world also needs trees, and wild spaces for animals, for a wide variety of reasons, not least among them that trees are the primary way that carbon dioxide gets converted into oxygen, without which we could not breathe.

We have been cutting forests. We instead need to be more efficient in our production and our consumption.

Thus the slogan: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Multiply the impact of each person by the growing levels of consumption and trash production that come with modernization and with industrialized production fueled by non-renewable fuels. Then look at how various areas of the world, including nations with the largest populations, have modernized and industrialized in recent decades. It is not hard to see we will continue to face environmental challenges despite positive steps.

An Earth Ball is a very large, inflated ball, usually decorated like the Earth. Earth Ball games have been part of some Earth Day events from very early on, possibly even from 1970. One of the many games that can be played with an Earth Ball involves a group keeping the ball aloft. That game is a metaphor. What is being held aloft is too large for any one person, or even a small group. It requires collective effort. Earth Day is a call for people to help with the lifting.

Shippensburg University have been holding StewardSHIP events this week, including plantings and riparian buffer maintenance. The university Earth Day events are Thursday on the quad.

ShipShape Day, our community cleanup, is this Saturday morning, April 24. I hope to see you there.

Volunteers will meet at 8:30 a.m. in the usual place, the Firefighters Activities Center, 33 W. Orange St. The Middle Spring Watershed Association will do our first stream cleanup of the year, and new volunteers are welcome.

See: for more information.

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