Earth Day has its roots in Wisconsin

Image: Courtesy of NASA

Wisconsin and Earth Day go back a long way together. Truth be told, without Wisconsin, Earth Day might not even exist. Dismayed by a disastrous oil spill off the coast of California in 1969, our own Senator Gaylord Nelson conceived and set in motion the gears that made Earth Day 1970 a phenomenon to be reckoned with. Twenty million Americans marched proudly in their streets and parks that first year to protest the piecemeal destruction of the beautiful, life nurturing planet we had only recently seen from space for the very first time. In recent photos taken by astronauts, we could finally see how finite Earth was floating alone in the emptiness of space. We also saw how small and fragile it was. Suddenly, we knew without doubt how much our lives depended on it. We also understood we needed to protect this little life boat of ours drifting in the dark vacuum between the stars.

For the last four years, the local Citizen’s Climate Lobby folks have celebrated Earth Day here in Wausau with a march, a tree planting and a brief program about climate change. This year, in a partnership with NAOMI (North central Area congregations Organized to Make an Impact) and the Wausau & Marathon County Parks Department, we celebrate Earth Day again and reaffirm Wausau as a Tree City. This time on Saturday, April 24th, thanks to a grant from our community foundation, we and friends of various cultural, religious and organizational backgrounds will plant fifteen Earth Day trees on Fern Island. The theme for the day is building Martin Luther King’s vision of a Beloved Community in Wausau in celebration and care of the Earth. The trees will be dedicated by Mayor Katie Rosenberg.

Quoting Madison civil rights activist Percy Brown:

“Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the Earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.”

In short, the Beloved Community is one based on unreserved care, respect and support for one another and for our individual aspirations.

We want a safe, secure and successful future for all our children. We invest in a good education for them, we run them to the doctor’s office when they get feverish, and do what we are able to help them financially throughout their lives.

Too often, though, we fail to even consider the environmental heritage we are handing over to our children. One of the most important questions Earth Day asks us to consider is that very thing. What kind of world do we want for ourselves and for precious children – and for theirs?

We also care about the other folks we share this planet with. But can we really care about one another and at the same time ignore the livability of the planet we share? The answer is a resounding no. On Earth Day, we commit to do better, together.

While we celebrate by planting trees, both because of what trees symbolize – life – and because they effectively sequester carbon, we also celebrate one another in the richness of our diversity. We need one another; now more than ever. We need to share our ideas and our skills at solving the many problems, like climate change, that we face together. We need to stand together hand in hand if we are to stand at all.

This year, because of COVID, we will plant our trees in small groups, widely distanced, and wearing masks. We will address the matter of building our Beloved Community in care for one another, and for the Earth, with a Zoom panel discussion around that theme. If you would like to listen and be part of that discussion, please go to NAOMI or Citizen’s Climate Lobby Rib Mountain – Marshfield on Facebook where you can register.