Earth Day 2009
April 16, 2009 -- April 22 marks the 39th anniversary of Earth Day, a day of celebration and activism intended to raise awareness of environmental issues. In 1970 the Environmental Teach-In, led by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson and Denis Hayes, helped organize around 20 million demonstrators to show support for a policy agenda focused on these concerns.
Many laws to protect the environment, including the Clean Air Act, were passed by Congress in the wake of the 1970 Earth Day. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created to protect the environment and public health.
Several National Academies reports from the past year examine how science and technology can be harnessed to protect the Earth and sustain the diversity and well-being of the life it supports. Many of them focused on ways to maintain and restore precious water resources.
In March 2008, the National Research Council identified 10 questions shaping 21st century Earth science in the report "Origin and Evolution of Earth: Research Questions for a Changing Planet". Scientists looked at past discoveries that have shaped new fundamental questions about the origins of the Earth and life, the structure and dynamics of planets, and the connections between life and climate.
"Tackling Marine Debris in the 21st Century" assessed the effectiveness of international and national measures to prevent and reduce shipborne marine debris and its impact. Man-made debris that finds its way to the ocean can harm marine wildlife, habitats, and humans. The NRC committee concluded that current measures to reduce marine debris are inadequate and that the problem will likely worsen. The report recommends that the United States and the international maritime community adopt a goal of "zero discharge" of waste into the marine environment, and implement a system to assess the effectiveness of actions taken to reduce debris.
Efforts to restore the hydrology of the Florida Everglades and return the ecosystem closer to its natural state were examined by the NRC in "Progress Toward Restoring the Everglades: The Second Biennial Review, 2008". The report found that budgeting, planning, and procedural matters are hindering a federal and state effort to restore the Florida Everglades ecosystem, which is making only scant progress toward achieving its goals.
"Nutrient Control Actions for Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Northern Gulf of Mexico" recommended the establishment of a Nutrient Control Implementation Initiative to learn more about the effectiveness of actions meant to improve water quality throughout the Mississippi River basin and into the northern Gulf of Mexico.
The report "Hydrologic Effects of a Changing Forest Landscape" examined the connections among forest management and water quantity and quality, and recommended ways for the research, forest management, and citizen communities to increase their understanding of hydrology, science, land management, and policy in forested areas.