This week marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, that optimistic ’70s event that seemed an overdue awakening to the threat of human activity to our natural world. Thanks to the Clean Air Act of 1963, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, and the Clean Water Act of 1973, the air is more breathable and the rivers more swimmable, but the overall health of the planet is worse than ever.
Following torrential downpours Tuesday, we were treated to an unexpected vision of a cleaner planet. The sun shone like a golden platter and the Monadnock range could be seen in crisp detail, as if through new glasses. Everyday objects shone with an unfamiliar clarity in the late afternoon light, and even the birds seemed to sing a different song.
For five weeks now the world’s fleets of aircraft have been mostly idle and our fossil-fueled commutes by car and rail have all but disappeared, unclogging roadways in and around Boston. It took a pandemic to bring our 21st-century world to a halt and clear our air, a stark reminder of how much the health of our planet depends on us. But Tuesday’s clear skies could be seen as a promise of better things to come, if only we take seriously our role as stewards of Earth once again. It’s time to renew the promise of that first Earth Day, which seemed to unite an entire planet 50 years ago and is more urgent now than ever.