St. Louis Earth Day 2010

By Cassie Phillips,

St. Louis Earth Day Executive Director


As we celebrate the 40th Earth Day on April 22, it is important to take a moment to reflect on how far we have come and how far we have yet to go with sustainability efforts.

The idea for Earth Day emerged in 1969.  Senator Gaylord Nelson, Congressman Frank McClusky and other politicians who were seeking to improve environmental laws concluded that they needed to create broad based support for environmental legislation. Their conclusions were on point – historians credit the first Earth Day with providing the popular push for the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Congressional passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. Earth Day is now celebrated on every continent and environmental awareness about the importance of environmental health is becoming commonplace.

Educational Achievements

In 1970, there were very few people talking about the environment. At that time, there were virtually no environmental science programs or environmental education courses.  Basic ecology was generally taught only as a component of biology.

Forty years later, the environment has been integrated into education at all levels. Elementary schools teach ecology; environmental science is taught in most high schools.  Most colleges and universities have some combination of environmental studies, environmental science, and environmental engineering degrees. Top graduate schools across the nation have instituted interdisciplinary environmental programs. As a result of forty years of progress, today’s youth have significantly greater opportunities to learn about our relationship to the natural world, as compared to the generations preceding them.

Since 1970 countless environmental engineers, environmental scientists, ecologists and educators have been trained and entered the work force. Environmental educators teach appreciation of the interconnectedness of life on Earth; environmental engineers develop technologies and strategies to clean up the environment and reduce pollution. Earth Day celebrations are no longer limited to academia; rather they take place in City Halls, parks, County administration buildings, and corporate cafeterias. Locally, nationally and internationally we have made great strides. Even so, much remains to be done. Despite our efforts, we are still seeking to fully achieve the goals set in those first clean air and water laws.

Case Study: Water Quality

in the Urban Environment

In 1970, Congress stated that our national goal was to return our oceans, estuaries, rivers, lakes and streams to a quality where we could fish and swim safely in them. In the last forty years, we have made good progress. We have eliminated most direct discharge of sewage and other river pollutants. The Meramec River, which had been an important recreational destination for St. Louisans in the early 20th Century, was polluted and deteriorating in 1970.  Today it is restored to a healthy urban river boasting increased park space and recreational opportunities. The successful Meramec River restoration is a model for other water bodies in our community.

In the St. Louis region, we already have resident watershed groups working in partnership with local governments seeking to improve management of the land and waters. For example, LaBarque Creek is a healthy stream south of Eureka where watershed planning began in 2002. In 2009, residents, government representatives and non-profit organizations signed a watershed plan for the area and are actively following the plan to protect water quality. Citizens in the central corridor of St. Louis County have begun an initiative to develop and implement a plan to restore Deer Creek. The goal to return our urban rivers, streams and lakes to swimmable and fishable quality is tangible.

The St. Louis Earth Day Festival in Forest Park on Sunday April 25, 2010 plays a critical role in promoting and supporting local environmental progress. This event started as a small grassroots effort in 1989 and has blossomed into a major annual event with a diverse and ever-expanding audience. The Festival embraces the concerns and interests of the community. St. Louis Earth Day holds outreach sessions in which we listen to stakeholders and encourage contributions to the planning process. The Festival provides a forum for community leaders to share their passion, whether it is a high school group leading an educational activity for children, a not-for-profit organization recruiting volunteers, a small company breaking into a new market, or a corporation educating its customers about its environmental programs. Our goal is to encourage discussion, critical thinking, and celebration as we work together to build a more sustainable and healthy future.


Sustainability: The Necessary Course for the Future

Unprecedented mainstream support for an environmentally responsible paradigm shift makes the present ripe for significant change. What will it mean for the St. Louis region when banks invest in revitalizing city real estate and developers begin to build clean and human oriented factories in the brownfields of St. Louis City rather than the agricultural flood plains of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers?  How will Missouri forests benefit from the certification of sustainably harvested Ozark wood?  How would a network of bikeways throughout the region change the work commute and recreational opportunities? Imagine the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers filled with people swimming, fishing and boating! These “daydreams” are tangible components of our sustainable future, many of which are already in the works.


The Festival theme – 40 Years Later: Living Earth Day Every Day! – draws attention to the significance of the corner we have turned. Earth Day is no longer an isolated, one-day event. More and more people are adopting Earth Day principles into their everyday lives and the evidence of that collective impact surrounds us. Now THAT is cause for celebration! We hope you will join us on April 25th for this important celebration. For more information on the event, see the event program printed in this month’s edition of The Healthy Planet or visit the St. Louis Earth Day website: www.stlouisearthday.org.


Many thanks to David Wilson, Board Member of St. Louis Earth Day and the human archive of this historical perspective. His mentorship is greatly appreciated.