Before the Environmental Protection Agency existed, before the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and long before any state had a renewable energy standard on the books, there was Earth Day. It was the precursor -- and one of the drivers -- for those efforts and much more.
In 1970, the first Earth Day marked the beginning of a new consciousness of the toll human actions were having on the environment.
Together 20 million people from all over the country gathered to protest pollution. The idea for Earth Day originated with Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, who was thinking about how he could harness the energy of the anti-war movement and apply it to another growing problem -- cleaning up the environment. He said, "If we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force the issue onto the national political agenda."
Not surprisingly, it's a sentiment that rings as true today as when Senator Nelson spoke those words 45 years ago. Today, Earth Day is an opportunity to educate and talk with one another about the impact of our actions and to engage communities around possible solutions. It's also a time to draw connections between environmental issues and other social problems that plague our nations.
Take the issues of climate change and infrastructure, for instance. Despite the growing concern of Americans from all walks of life about the strength and safety of infrastructure in the face of more extreme weather -- such as transportation, pipes, electrical lines, communication systems, and public buildings like our schools and libraries -- Congress has failed to take meaningful action even when it could create jobs and improve public safety.
Most of us do not even notice infrastructure until it stops working. But when a bridge is closed causing us to be late for work, when our levees are tested by extreme weather caused by climate change, when storms cause the power in our neighborhood to go out, or when a water main breaks, which happens every two minutes in our country, we do take notice.
Without action, this will continue to get worse. A study by the Center for American Progress puts the price tag for extreme weather events in 2011 and 2012 at $188 billion. Another example: blackouts cause by weather have doubled since 2003. These are issues that will only get worse as our world continues to warm and bring more extreme weather into our neighborhoods.
By investing now in infrastructure -- from energy to water to communications to transportation to the buildings that serve our communities -- we can cut down on the energy inefficiencies that cause climate change and the costs of disaster relief.
The legacy of the first Earth Day is that we're all empowered to lead the charge on climate action. Let's commemorate this Earth Day -- Tuesday, April 22 -- by finding the impactful solutions like Repairing America that will make the biggest difference for everybody.