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Flashback: University of Colorado at Boulder, April 22, 1970.

The Beatles have just disbanded, the astronauts of Apollo 13 recently had a problem and the environmental movement is about to blow up on campus.

This Thursday marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. On the same day, students at CU founded the “Eco Center,” which would eventually become the Environmental Center. What began as a grassroots teach-in became an international springboard for sustainability, environmental ethics and change.

Made-up holidays don’t always resonate (see “National Talk Like a Pirate Day”), but setting aside a day to focus on the planet struck a chord at CU and beyond. People were ready to fight to make the environment a priority.

Now, 40 years later, we’re still facing the same things. And we’re still at a crossroads

Yes, huge strides have been made to clean up the air and water. More people recycle than ever before, animals are federally protected, companies are starting to take responsibility for the footprint of their products and you can run your car on grease.

But that doesn’t mean it’s over. That means it’s time to start attacking the big stuff.

The point of Earth Day, when it was created, was to make environmental issues part of the national dialogue: to make people aware of the ways we were harming the planet, and how to stop.

Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin who came up with the concept of Earth Day, gave a speech in Denver on April 22, 1970.

“Environment is all of America and all of its problems,” he said, “It is rats in the ghetto. It is a hungry child in the land of affluence. It is housing not worthy of the name; neighborhoods not fit to inhabit.”

That’s still relevant, and it still rings true, but we live in different times. In the ’70s, climate change wasn’t on the tip of everyone’s tongue, zero waste had zero significance and environmental racism was unheard of.

The challenges we face are unique and immediate to our generation. In 40 years, our kids and grandkids will probably have their own set of ecological issues. At least, hopefully they will, if we get working on what we can do now.

Earth Day is a momentum builder. Saving the planet, and keeping it cool for the next generation, can’t and won’t happen in one day. It’s not just a day for action, it’s a day for reflection and planning, for looking towards the future and, especially this year, learning from the past.

So, Thursday, take the time to think about what you can do to make the world a better place in the next 40 years. The fashion shows, movies and concerts around campus are there to get your brain cells bumping together and to make us all think about sustainability, and what we can do, individually and collectively.

Because if we don’t, what will happen 40 years from now?

Heather Hansman is communication coordinator for the CU Environmental Center.

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