Earth Day 50
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which officially occurs on April 22. In a normal world, this would be a really big deal and we’d be gearing up for a big celebration—Earth Day helped elevate the importance of protecting our environment in a whole new way. But it’s hard to think about pollinator corridors and carbon sequestration during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As I write this, thousands of people are dying, millions are unemployed, medical supplies are dwindling, and social distancing is the new norm. Earth Day Staunton was canceled, as were in-person events across the country. But hopes of flattening the curve and a brighter future abound. We will get through this and we will carry on. Cheers to Earth Day 50! Are you ready for some positive and uplifting news about our environment? Read on.
Virginia Clean Economy Act
This year, Virginia passed the most sweeping environmental laws in its history. To fight the climate crisis, the General Assembly passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act. It gives us a path to make energy production in Virginia carbon-free by 2045 and shuts down dirty coal-fired power plants by 2030. It kickstarts massive offshore wind production, adds more incentives, and removes barriers for rooftop solar systems.
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
Virginia will also enter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which is a multistate carbon-based market that will lower power plant pollution and direct millions of dollars toward low-income energy efficiency programs and protections in flood-prone communities.
Solar power is now more affordable, more accessible, and more prevalent than ever before. Last year solar power supplied 40 percent of all new electric capacity to the grid, and the solar industry now employs almost 250,000 Americans.
Livestock Exclusion From Perennial Streams
The Virginia General Assembly also passed legislation that sets a deadline of July 1, 2026, for fencing cattle out of perennial streams. Valley farmers have led the state in these measures, but there is much more to do.
Fifty years ago, we’d never heard of livestock exclusion from streams or riparian forest buffers. Today, livestock exclusion from streams is one of the most popular best management practices on farmland and over 2,000 acres of riparian buffers have been established in Augusta County and in the City of Staunton. The buffer along Bells Lane in Staunton is a classic example.
Plastic Bag Tax
Virginia Senate Bill 11 deals with disposable plastic bags. It authorizes any county or city to impose a tax of 5 cents per bag beginning January 1, 2021. I encourage our local leaders to adopt this enabling legislation.
Wastewater Treatment Best in the World
We have the best waste-water treatment in the world right here in the Valley. Fifty years ago, we only separated the solids from our wastewater. Today, we remove the solids, kill the bacteria, and remove nutrients.
Four Million Acres of Virginia Protected Forever
Fifty years ago, we’d never heard of conservation easements. Today more than 4 million acres of Virginia have been protected forever from unwise development.
The Most Pressing Issues
Search the internet for the most pressing environmental issues facing us today, and you will find that the climate crisis, waste disposal, pollution, and overpopulation are on the shortlist.
In 1970, world population was 3.6 billion. Now 50 years later, world population has more than doubled to 7.8 billion. Geologists call our period in time the Anthropocene, meaning that human activity has the most influence on our climate and the environment.
Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint Successes
The good news is that although the world’s population has more than doubled, our streams are cleaner than they were 50 years ago. The Chesapeake Bay is healthier today than it was in 1970.
Virginia, along with the other five Chesapeake Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia, has implemented plans to remove the Bay from the national dirty waters list by 2025. It’s called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and it’s working.
Earth Day 50—We’ve Come a Long Way
We have come a long way. Slowly but surely we have become more responsible. I am uplifted by the ingenuity of the American people, the excitement of our youth and grassroots organizations, the creative incentives empowered by our government, and the development of environmental laws that have gotten us this far despite all the pressure we put on the environment.
Even if we can’t be together this Earth Day, there’s plenty to celebrate, for sure.
Although COVID-19 prevented people from doing their everyday normal routine, it also made people realize that they should be utilizing the green spaces available to them. People started occupying public parks, hiking, picnicking, gardening, and so much more. Everyone did pretty much anything that would get them out of the house while still social distancing. And because of this, people started to gain more of an appreciation for the earth. I think it’s great that so many green initiatives are happening in the state that I live in. Virginia has a lot of great resources for connecting you to climate action organizations and conservation efforts. It’s unfortunate that Earth Day 2022 was canceled in Staunton, but that doesn’t mean the community wasn’t allowed to celebrate on their own. Mary Baldwin University in Staunton actually hosted their first student organized Sustainability Summit last year just a couple weeks before Earth day. Different groups from James Madison University, Eastern Mennonite University, Bridge Water College, and Mary Baldwin University came together to present their projects on sustainability efforts. I attended with my capstone group and presented our work on sustainable agriculture. It was a successful event and I’m excited to see how the summit will evolve. With growing popularity in recreational activities. improving green initiatives, and creating spaces for students, I hope to see even more support for climate action in the future.
Nice! Glad you were at the sustainability summit.
We certainly have come quite far in the realm of sustainability over the last few decades, and right now there are many practices to be grateful for. However, now more than ever we need to tighten down and remain vigilant. Given our large population growth since the 1970s, the current practices will not sustain the earth at this rate of growth and progress. We should always be looking to find new sustainable practices to conserve and save the environment from reaching a point on no return in terms of pollution, carbon emissions, and waste. This can be approached from many angles, whether that be via environmental policy, environmental action, or everyone simply playing their small part. I think COVID may have been a good thing for climate change as people shared a lot of time to reflect, and lots of good brainstorming, ideals, and policy came out of it. This problem solving action is what the world needs if we are to remain sustainable for farther out future generations. There is still however, much to be grateful for every Earth Day.
Good comments, Tyler. Thank you.
It’s nice to read about how many positive things have happened in the environmental realm recently. I think too often we skip over celebrating environmental victories because there are always more issues that need to be solved and as soon as something has been addressed we move on to the next issue without thinking about how many positive changes have already occurred. While I do think it’s a good thing that we are always pushing for the next biggest issue to be addressed, it can also get kind of depressing if you aren’t reminded that environmental victories do happen and will continue to happen as long as people are willing to fight for them. I think our generation will continue seeking to solve environmental issues and hopefully create even longer lists of wins in the future.
Chelsea, good comments. Your generation will definitely solve environmental issues because of people like you.
I love this blog post about Earth Day because I believe it is so important to celebrate progress. Whether it’s not the end goal, it’s small progress, or big progress, it still should be celebrated. I believe this can be applied to many things in life as well. The awareness of these issues has brought progress to the Earth. People band together to change the Earth, and we see that this works. It is just as important to do things in your daily life to contribute as well. Despite the impact Covid-19 has taken on humans, we learned how we could connect in a variety of ways. I used to think that in order for something to have any importance, that it should be something big, impactful, and well-known and well celebrated. I see now that it really is the small things that accumulate into something amazing. We may still have a long way to go, but the importance of the individual and banding together proceeds to impact.
Spot on, Alyssa. Thank you.
I think reading this post was necessary in 2020, and it is still important two years later in 2022. There are plenty of laws and actions that have happened in the past couple of years to really celebrate regarding the environment, some of which I wasn’t even aware about. Something that I thought when reading this post was that I think it is very important to still celebrate the environmental victories we see so that others, like myself who weren’t aware of them, can be encouraged and motivated to keep the momentum up for a bright healthy future. Thank you for the reminding me our efforts pay off!
Thank you, Michael. It’s easy for us to slip down the slope of negativity.
The pandemic put us in an interesting position as environmentalists and scientists. Although we were not able to continue in-person discussions and celebrations about sustainability and Earth Day, we were able to analyze some of the interesting environmental effects of COVID. From decreases in car usage to changes in air pollution in China, the pandemic allowed for some conversations about environmental changes that may otherwise not have happened. One of the most interesting things to me was seeing how the pandemic affected small communities like Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay.
For one of my classes we would travel out to Smith Island to volunteer each semester, and it was interesting to see that the community was so isolated that the pandemic didn’t spread to the island until months after the rest of the United States. Additionally, although a lot of activities were paused, it was interesting that some efforts were able to continue, like tree planting for riparian buffers and other outdoor activities.
Good comments. Glad you were able to go the Smith Island.
It is encouraging to see the changes we make, such as the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, are making a difference to better the planet. A lot of the time there is a focus on what needs to be done next, and although there is a lot to do, no one really steps back to see the effects of what we have done in the past. After being locked inside for over a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a shift to wanting to be immersed in nature. Due to social distancing, many people tended to go to public spaces in nature to get some fresh air and new scenery. In 2020, I remember going to a public park near my house after being inside all day completing assignments and there were more people spread out around the park than I have ever seen. This is great and I am glad people are appreciating nature and hope this appreciation continues into the future and will encourage people to become a part of the initiative of bettering the planet.
It is amazing to know the kind of progress being made in my own backyard. I had no idea how many steps in the right direction Virginia had taken during this time frame and wish I had known about it during the often hopeless height of the pandemic. Realizing the population has doubled in so little time is a sobering thought, however, especially knowing how soon we are expected to reach 8 billion people and knowing how many more unwanted births there may soon be in the US. I am curious to know specifically what those 4 million acres in Virginia are protected from and what might be included or excluded in “unwise development”. I also did not know that Virginia municipalities now had the power to impose a plastic bag tax as I haven’t run into that in any stores in Virginia since then. Does the money in the 5-cent tax go to the store charging it or to the local government? I am surprised to learn that valley farmers have been pushing for the deadline for fencing cattle to keep them out of perennial streams as I would imagine that this would incur significant costs for them and significantly change the landscape of their farms. I am encouraged by the progress and will go into the next earth day with a much better attitude!
Sophia, you ask some really good questions, thank you. We’ll dive into those in class. But for starters, the 4 million acres protected means that 4 million acres of farmland are forever protected from being subdivided into lots. They will remain farms forever.
I love this post. During a time we all endured separation from family and friends, this is something for people in Virginia to be joyful about and lift spirits. Especially during the pandemic, I know that mental health issues and depression have hit many people. Sometimes finding the little things are what people need. I think this post also shows that we are moving forward as a society. There are so many factors that go into climate change. During this period of Anthropocene, it makes me happy to see that not only are our political leaders actively making advancements and embracing a new era for the state, but the public is pushing for these changes too. The world looks a lot different than it did 50 years ago, but we still have a long way to go if we want to reverse climate change and make this planet the best possible place for human life. I am excited to see what happens in the next decade or so with the Clean Economy Act and if the proposed amendments are truly met.
Spot on, Hayden. Thank you.
The pandemic was awful in the lives that it took. But it also provided a new perspective on climate change. First of all, it shows how quickly the entire world can come together and take action in the face of an emergency. Some aspects of sustainability fell at that time, like the mass use of single use products. There were a few silver linings, like the decrease in transportation, which reduced GHG emissions. Reading through this post about the beginnings of the VCEA, RGGI, and major solar developers is shocking. In the past year I’ve diligently worked through these items, researching and reporting on every update. Realizing they only came to life a few years ago is a reset. There is so much noise about climate change and the need to “act now.” Every headline I read is a new, terrifying finding that only induces panic. We should be scared, but it shouldn’t paralyze us, which I feel the media has done. Here in Virginia, we are trying to move in the right direction. To me, that is reassuring. It’s not the perfect pace, but we are taking steps in many directions to address this massive problem. Acknowledging these actions can help society stay hopeful, not fearful.
Anna, really good comments. Thank you.
This post was very informative. Even as an environmental science major that lives in Virginia, I had not heard about many of the topics discussed here. It seems that me, as well as a lot of the general public were so fixated on the problem of Covid, that these important things were lost in the chaos of what was going on. I think now is a great time to look back and make note of the hard work and progress that these organizations made while the world wasn’t looking. The progress that has been made in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and implementing policies to better manage it’s watershed makes me optimistic about the future of the Bay. As someone who relies on it for recreational fishing opportunities that depend on the water quality and the health of the aquatic ecosystem there, this is something that is very important to me. The quality of the wastewater treatment facilities here in the valley is also something that I love hearing about.
It is good to see that positive impacts on our environment have been made throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, even though many in-person events were limited for obvious reasons. Reading about these various acts that occurred inspires hope for the planet since people did not give up during a global crisis. As COVID restrictions for the large part have been reduced, I hope for an increase in new laws and policies to further improve the impact we have on the environment. I myself share my birthday with Earth Day which is nice to be able to celebrate the planet as well as my own birthday.
During the height of the pandemic, I think we all had our focus on other things and weren’t really paying attention to this sort of news. We needed people to remind us that things will get better. Even this far out of the worst of the pandemic I did not know some of these things were taking place right here in VA. Besides the Clean Economy Act, which we spent a whole year covering in 390, this is still uplifting news that reminds us we’re on the right track. It’s hard to look at the big picture and feel like we’re in the clear but little victories like these can help put our minds at ease.
Growing up, Earth Day was not a holiday that was readily celebrated at my school or in my friend groups. This led to me not fully realizing the importance of Earth Day and just how much fun it can be to celebrate protecting our home planet. Seeing this post made me think about the times that I did things for earth day, which are few but fond memories. This post made me realize that there are people in the surrounding areas that do care about and celebrate earth day for the great event that it is. Even if we are not as connected to each other as we have been due to the pandemic, it is still very pleasant to see the work others are doing in our own backyards.
I really liked this post about Earth Day, and think that it is extremely important for us to recognize how far our society has come in terms of succeeding in smaller environmental goals. There are a lot of small, yet very important, achievements that we have reached in our path to protect the natural world. One of the achievements that stood out to me the most in this post was the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. I think it is great that Virginia has entered into agreements that have focused on pushing money toward low-income and flood-prone communities. With the more recent news about what is happening in Pakistan and the regional floods and displacement that has been going on these past couple of weeks, I think this is extremely relevant and has the opportunity to be explored more in the future. Little steps inspire big steps and I think it’s important to keep celebrating our “little achievements” in order to keep making progress towards large change.
This post is an awesome way to celebrate earth day. It’s encouraging to read through the recap progress made in the environmental relm over the previous year and I would hope that this could become a trend on the holiday. I was most intrigued to learn about the Regional Greenhouse Initiative and the new livestock exclusion act . I had one clarifying question about the RGGI. the press statement you provided estimated that participation in the program would next Virgina $100 million annually. I wanted to know if this was all from selling off emissions credits or if the program or if membership in the program itselfs provides any funding and if so how is that money sourced. I thought it was great that the money will be used to increase the efficiency of low-income families homes. I completed a semester long project on this subject last year in ISAT 390.
This post makes me really optimistic about the future changes that have been implemented recently along with hearing about some of the other improvements made over the last 50 years. As someone that is from Pennsylvania, I did not know about much of this going on but it has been really nice to learn about some of the changes that Virginia is implementing. Even though there was a pandemic happening it is also nice to see the progress that is being made to help improve the environment.