After more than half a century, Earth Day grows up

Published: Apr. 22, 2021 at 10:53 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - When Earth Day made its first appearance in 1970, it was dismissed as a movement led by hippies and tree huggers and not taken all that seriously.

“God bless the hippies for starting it,” said Carolyn Campbell, executive director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. “But yes, it is absolutely mainstream now.

It may be mainstream now but it took a lot of work to get there.

“Twenty years ago when we embarked on this planning effort, protection effort, you know, climate change was studied by academics more than talked about as an urgent issue,” she said.

But now, Earth Day and climate change have melded into one and the conversation has become urgent.

“We’ve got this big storm cloud of this long-term drought and climate change that hangs over everything,” Campbell said.

But before that was an issue, getting Earth Day to be taken seriously was difficult. It became a task for the “kids.”

Earth Day became a day of festivals and activities to get young people involved. There were science fairs and contests to get them interested.

“We really are focusing on kids because they will be the next generation of decision-makers and we want to start early on some basic concepts,” an early organizer said.

Those kids have now become the leaders of the environmental movement.

“I think it’s just people are getting more and more serious and the kids are growing up,” Campbell said. “We’ve got incredible youth leaders around the world talking about it seriously.”

Pima County is one of the most environmentally sensitive counties in the country which is why it’s often called a model for conservation.

It’s home to the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan which was passed 25 years ago amid much controversy.

It’s when the whole concept of conservation changed in Pima County because of a 6-inch bird — the pygmy owl.

“That changed everything,” she said.

The arguments were long and intense at the time but they forced both sides of the conservation argument to realize they had common ground.

Still, the battles are not over but they are just fought in quieter quarters.

“We’ve got issues like water, ongoing land development, old-style transportation systems,” Campbell said. “The drought, climate change and its effect on natural habitat here in Pima County and the Sonoran Desert is definitely the top issue in my mind.”

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