Since his appointment in February 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has shown himself to be more concerned with spending taxpayer money on excessive security details than honoring his agency’s original mission, and many Americans seem confused about precisely what the EPA does and whether environmental activism ever makes a difference. Have public events like Earth Day ever inspired meaningful change at the federal level?   

Yes, especially in the 1970s. Air pollution and acid rain were foremost concerns at the first declared Earth Day — April 22, 1970 — and inspired an estimated 20 million American citizens to participate in peaceful street marches, teach-ins and community gatherings across the country. The Environmental Protection Agency was created that July, and charged with protecting the nation against air and water pollution. The following year, President Richard Nixon signed the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act — the beginning of a bipartisan wave of environmental consciousness that seemed to sweep through Washington, DC over the next seven years, as most uses of the toxic pesticide DDT were banned and Congress passed the Clean Water, Endangered Species, Toxic Substances Control, and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Acts. Terms like “biodiversity” and “sustainability” entered the mainstream lexicon, and in 1990 Earth Day became a global phenomenon; the Earth Day Network estimates more than a billion people in 192 countries now take part.

It is instructive to consider that thumbnail historical overview now, in 2018, when it feels like we are backpedaling to the detriment of national wellbeing. Pruitt’s ethical lapses and astonishingly anti-regulatory, anti-environmental policies have met stiff opposition from the public, and congressional calls for his resignation are increasing. The governmental entity he oversees, created partly in response to public demand, needs public support more than ever, as pressure intensifies for citizens to hold federal agencies and politicians accountable.

Which brings us to this weekend’s Earth Day celebrations.

Earth Day remains an opportunity for civic participation: tree planting, petition signing, neighborhood cleanups, community garden plantings, educational forums, and connection with business, community, faith and political leaders. At a time when virtual bricks of ingested plastic bags have been found in the bellies of desert camels, “trash islands” in the Atlantic and especially the Pacific Ocean are attracting scientific study and media attention, food chain-disrupting microplastics are showing up in marine bottom-feeders, and the World Economic Forum estimates that plastic will outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050, this year’s Earth Day theme could not be more timely: ending plastic pollution. Sustainable practices — whether it’s identifying alternatives to plastic or supporting clean energy — will be a priority at several local Earth Day celebrations.

Officially, Earth Day is this Sunday, April 22, but South Pasadena Mayor Richard Schneider and Bike San Gabriel Valley are inviting people to get a jump on the weekend festivities by joining for an EarthMonth bike ride around South Pasadena from 6:30 to 8 p.m. tonight — Thursday, April 19. The ride will begin at the Metro Gold Station, 905 Meridian Ave., South Pasadena. Attendees must bring their own bikes, bike lights, and helmets, and a parent or guardian must accompany children 15 or younger. To learn more about the ride and Bike SGV, visit bikefriendlysgv.com.

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, the big event in Old Pasadena will be Day One’s “Conscious Community” Earth Day celebration, which will offer outdoor and indoor activities — including yoga, zumba, drum circles and live music — at Memorial Park and across the street at Armory Center for the Arts, 145 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena. Educational demonstrations are promised concerning bike repair, clean energy, electric vehicles, healthy recipes for cooking, stormwater harvesting and water-wise gardening, in addition to workshops where attendees can learn and share ideas for “a more environmentally friendly Pasadena.” For more details, visit godayone.org or call (626) 229-9570.

Also on Saturday, Hahamongna Native Plant Nursery, 4550 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, will benefit from a Folia Collective-supported event from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., with volunteers helping out with plant restoration. Learn more about the nursery, native species, and the nonprofit Arroyo Seco Foundation at arroyoseco.org/nursery.htm.

Meanwhile, the 3rd Annual Citywide Earth Day LA will take over the Highland Park Recreation Center (6150 Piedmont Ave., Highland Park) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Hosted by LA Sanitation, the splashy celebration will mix education with family-friendly entertainment and live music from Salserinas, Alarma, and Renaissance Academy musicians, plus DJ Jorge Nesta, and an “enviro-azzi” section for photographs with LA Sanitation mascots like Octo-Clean, the Drop, Mr. Recy-cle, and Tommy TV. More than 50 nonprofit and government exhibitors will offer practical information about where to obtain free mulch, how to recycle water and sign up for a free street tree. More details about the free event can be found at lacitysan.org/earthdayla.

If big group gatherings aren’t your thing, commemorate Earth Day by exploring alternatives to plastic and measuring your own plastic consumption with Earth Day Network’s plastic pollution calculator (earthday.org/plastic-calculator/). Study up on what’s happening at the EPA; nonpartisan nonprofit journalism outfits like the Pulitzer Prize-winning Center for Public Integrity (publicintegrity.org) and ProPublica (propublica.org) are a reasonable place to start. And write or call senators and congressional representatives to express your support for the agency’s original mission to protect public health against toxic chemicals and pollution. 


To learn more about Earth Day, visit earthday.org.