By Rebecca Hannigan
We have oil to thank for Earth Day. It started after a spill in California in 1970, which incensed U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson enough for him to try and apply the same energetic tactics used in anti-war campaigns to environmental efforts. He enlisted the help of another U.S. politician and a man from Harvard in order to increase consciousness about environmental problems which were, and still are, affecting the nation.
We can attribute oil to its origin, and college for its continuation. The campaign came together as the first official “Earth Day” on April 22, 1970, a date which fell between Harvard’s Spring Break and finals. It united Americans from all backgrounds: Republicans and Democrats, urbanites and farmers, as well as low-income and high-income individuals. Environmental groups with different focuses realized that they shared a common cause, speaking out against harmful habits in support of sustainable solutions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established by the end of the same year, and Earth Day became recognized globally in 1990.
Like many other colleges across the country and around the world, Earth Day is recognized and celebrated in Sewanee. This year, the event “Sips and Saplings” brought together faculty, staff, and students on the front lawn of Snowden on a late Friday afternoon to sip Fat Tire beer and spread fresh mulch. Not just Environmental Studies majors, but students from Art History, Economics, and other departments grabbed shovels and clambered up large piles of mulch to spread it evenly, helping prepare for saplings which will be planted soon. William Shealy, Grounds Manager, welcomed everyone to the event, while burgers cooked on the grill and the Motherpluckers set up their instruments. Dr. Bran Potter joined the band for a few folk songs with the help of John Mark Lampley. Alex Butler and James Dunaway also offered their bike-service abilities, helping with small adjustments and repairs to encourage less car transportation and more bicycling. The warm-dirt smell mixed with good food coming from the grill, as students continued to shovel, then plant echinacea and serviceberry. More species will be planted later, thanks to organizational efforts by Shealy, as well as Nicole Nunley, Laboratory Coordinator for the Department of Earth and Environmental Systems. These individuals have worked to promote such Earth-friendly awareness on campus for many years, but it takes more than a few to continue to make lasting change. Environmental issues, in the form of natural resource abuse and energy over-use, still harm land across the United States, even if it’s not always evident in Sewanee. Hopefully it doesn’t always take an oil spill to encourage us to get outside and take care of the Earth, perhaps by planting a few trees.
Earth Day Network. 2016. “The History of Earth Day”. http://www.earthday.org/about/the-history-of-earth-day/