The late 1960s were turbulent years in America. It was a time of rapid change when young protesters expressed disillusionment with many aspects of the world their elders had built.
The divisions in society that emerged from those conflicts four decades ago still haunt our society in the 21st century. Some of the emotional scars from those bitter disputes will influence American politics well into the future. There is, however, one legacy of those chaotic times that unites rather than divides us - Earth Day.
The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970.
It came about as the result of growing public concern about protecting and improving the environment. Then-Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wis., hit on the idea of using one day each year as a focal point for expressing concern about the environment. The goal was to bring together various environmental activists to protest bad policies and advocate initiatives that would make the planet an increasingly hospitable home not only for mankind, but for all living things.
A good deal of progress has been made since 1970 in bringing us closer to that goal:
The nation's air in many parts of the United States is much cleaner than it was in 1970.
Our water is also cleaner. Many lakes, harbors and rivers are less polluted today than they have been in a century.
Good progress also has been made in reversing the loss of wetlands. In 2004, then-President George W. Bush set as a goal "to restore, improve, or protect at least 3 million acres by 2009." Much remains to be done, but as of last year more than half that goal had been achieved.
Government and private sector initiatives to clean up and restore polluted industrial sites have turned many dangerous eyesores into more acceptable venues.
In 2012, concern about the environment has become a mainstream issue with widespread support from people from across the political spectrum. There are disagreements regarding particular policies and occasional quarrels about the scientific justification for certain approaches. That should not, however, obscure a very basic fact - we all have an enormous stake in keeping our home planet livable.
Earth Day 2012, which is celebrated today, remains an important symbol of our commitment to that goal.