April 22, 2013

Earth Day, an opportunity to celebrate?

Reflections on Earth Day from Kathy Gerwig, vice president of Employee Safety, Health and Wellness and Environmental Stewardship Officer at Kaiser Permanente.

This April 22, 2013 marks the 43rd anniversary of Earth Day, a day when people in communities all around the world demonstrate in support of the environment and environmental protection. For many of us, Earth Day brings a heightened awareness to the serious environmental issues of our time — growing pollution, climate change and the loss of priceless bio-diversity — all reflections of the impact that we as humans have on the planet’s fragile ecosystems, and in turn, on our own health.

Earth Day has historically been imbued with a sense of urgency, mission and activism. Begun in 1970, the early Earth Day celebrations came at a time of emerging consciousness about our place in the natural world. It was a time of significant angst and turmoil, with a war in Vietnam. Yet, it was also a time of hope, when protest and progress towards a better future marked the order of the day.

One of the critical moments that catalyzed the first Earth Day was the 1969 massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, the largest oil spill to have ever occurred at that time in history. I lived in the area during the aftermath and remember the beach cleanups and restoration. I learned that in the face of environmental devastation, there is an opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation for what is lost. More importantly I learned what can be regained by joining with others in taking action to support a cleaner and greener environment. I learned to celebrate the special joy of connecting with nature.

One might argue that today’s Earth Day offers a challenging time to celebrate in the face of so much environmental destruction that we witness around us, the news of which seems to grow louder each day. But in truth, it is in celebrating Earth that we gain a greater appreciation for all that it provides us.

Earth Day is a time to celebrate the gift of our natural world. Whether we are cleaning the shorelines of our local beaches, planting gardens at home or just simply taking a walk outside, it can be a time to have fun and enjoy the air, water and land that is our home.

We must remain vigilant in our work to create healthier environments, because we know that healthy environments lead to healthy communities and ultimately healthier people. I am grateful to be working for an organization that recognizes those vital connections, an organization that sees our health and the health of our planet as inextricably interwoven and is working diligently each day to minimize the impact of our health care operations on the natural world around us.

But while we remain vigilant, let us also let Earth Day be a time when we open our hearts and step outside and remind ourselves that we have one planet Earth that we all stand upon together. Let’s treat it, and each other, well.

Learn more about Kaiser Permanente’s Environmental Stewardship work by visiting kp.org/communitybenefit and kp.org/green