It is this fierce green hope that has fueled Guardians’ unapologetic defense of nature and her wonder.

Earth Day and I have a special relationship. See, we’re the same age.

A young girl wears a “Let Me Grow Up” sign as residents mark Earth Day in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park on April 22, 1970. AP/Photo

On April 22, 1970, more than 20 million people across the country, representing 10% of the United States’ population, gathered to recognize and demand change for the environment in a manner never expressed before. 

Seven months later in November, my family gathered and I was born into the same schismatic world on the heels of one of the most tumultuous decades in history– a time reminiscent of our discordant and disharmonious lives today. 

The 1960’s was marked by the civil rights, antiwar, Black liberation, and countercultural movements, racially-motivated violence and state-sanctioned surveillance and murder of political activists. I often ponder how my parents maintained their reservoir of hope and supported their spirits while bringing another soul into a world that was literally on fire? Simultaneously, I wonder how deep the waters of hope were in early environmentalists who organized to demand immediate action on the environment from the Nixon administration? 

Union Square Park in New York City, April 22, 1970. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

No doubt, the first Earth Day activist and my parents were energized by the political momentum from the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the student anti-war movement against the Vietnam War. I see that reflected in the words of the the junior senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, who envisioned mass environmental teach-ins on college campuses that would become Earth Day:

“Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.”

That clear, just, and inclusive objective voicing no separation between how we treat nature and how we treat ourselves caused a ripple through the crowd gathered in Washington D.C.

Like me, Earth Day activists were early walkers and quick to get on their feet, establishing some of the nation’s strongest environmental pillars: the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, the Clean Water Act in 1972, and the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Indeed, these are the same legal tools that Guardians has successfully used for decades to protect wildlife and front line communities.  

Bald eagle flight Wild Earth Guardians Andy MorffewIn some very important and measurable ways it is clear our environment is healthier than on that first Earth Day. Many more of our lakes and rivers are “fishable and swimmable,” our air is 78% cleaner, and the Endangered Species Act has helped prevent the extinction of nearly 300 species, including our nation’s symbol, the Bald eagle. In fact, 99% of all species officially listed with Endangered Species protections are still around today.

A sober assessment would have us be real about the failures, though, issues where the promise and optimism of the first Earth Day failed to turn back the churn of greed and extraction that devours nature and communities designated for sacrifice. Fossil fuel consumption has raised the average U.S. temperature by 2.6 since 1970, the planet has lost half of its wildlife, we’re losing an acre of natural land every 30 seconds in the United States, and we’re drilling more oil than we ever have in our history. 

So it is with Earth Day, like other movements born of protest demanding change, that it has been captured, tamed, and co-opted into a mass marketing greenwashing occasion for companies to hawk sustainable products aimed at duping us into believing we can buy our way out of environmental degradation. Given the state of the world and the compromised condition of Earth Day, it can be hard for all people who love nature and work for justice to maintain hope.However, it is in remembering the unapologetic and uncompromising demands from which Earth Day was born that gives me hope for our future. 

gray wolf eyes valerie flickr wildearth guardiansPioneering conservationist Aldo Leopold famously described the “fierce green fire” he saw in the eyes of a lobo; and when I think about the hope of my parents and the generations that demanded some of the strongest environmental policies to date, what I see is a fierce green hope.

It is this fierce green hope that has fueled Guardians’ unapologetic defense of nature and her wonder, achieving: 

And it fires the struggles we are engaged in today in partnership with New Mexico’s youth for a healthy environment and on behalf of National Preserves and wolves across the entire country, and for communities suffering toxic pollution in one of the nation’s biggest oil fields in the Permian Basin.  

Frontline communities in New Mexico continue to suffer from the pollution that results from oil and gas development, permitted by the state. Photo: Gail Evans

So, I invite you to co-hold the failures and successes of Earth Day with me– allow the beauty and magic of nature to recharge your soul. Not just for all the things this incredible day has inspired and mobilized us to do for nature, but what together we will accomplish in winning a better place for those generations yet to be born.  Our collective journey of fierce green hope is just getting started!

About the Author

Hop Hopkins | Executive Director, WildEarth Guardians

Read more from