director Blog: Earth Day Reminds Us of the Conservation Possibilities

Earth Day Reminds Us of the Conservation Possibilities

Earth Day 2013

Conservation is all about restraint, choosing not to do things so that future generations may enjoy the wild things and places we do.

This is awful hard, I know, especially in a world where fast is better than slow, more is better than less, and short-term thinking is often more highly valued than taking the long view.

It is easy to think we are facing a unique cultural climate not at all conducive to conservation and get discouraged. The stakes seem so high, the consequences so enduring, long-term thinking so challenging.

That’s why it was such a pleasure to do a little reading about Sen.  Gaylord Nelson, one of the founders of Earth Day, which this year is Monday, April 22.

More than 40 years ago, in a Congressional Record from 1970, Sen. Nelson called for “the introduction of new values in our society—where bigger is not necessarily better—where slower can be faster—and where less can be more.”

Gaylord Nelson Wilderness

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin houses the Gaylord Nelson Wilderness. Credit: National Park Service

The senator also knew how hard but how critical long-term thinking is and later addressed that: "The ultimate test of man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard."

In the face of that overwhelming short-term, “more is better” culture of the 1970s, Sen. Nelson started Earth Day and the nation went on to achieve many notable environmental successes: the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the prohibition on the use of most DDT, just to name a few.

So we must remind ourselves that this culture isn’t really new, and remarkable efforts remain well within the realm of possibility.

Earth Day is an excellent opportunity to make conservation a priority in all our lives. Amazing things can, and will, happen. See here for tips and events.

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Last updated: August 31, 2011