A Half Century of Earth Day: Poetry and Prose Reflection

Patrick McCorkle
6 min readApr 22, 2020

Fifty years of trying to better care for our home,

The sole planet in the galaxy ours to freely roam,

Yet it seems to become dirtier and devalued by the day.

Let’s assume that our current pandemic is a clear way

To scale back, to honor, to esteem what gives being!

Now, the time is here, more than ever, to start seeing

Both devastating results and quickening pace

Of our actions upon formerly lush, vibrant and green place

From whence we all came, and treat in a manner most illicit

-Don’t misunderstand me, I know that I am also quite complicit

In these crimes. But I vow to start cherishing and saving

Mother Earth before she punishes us for the way we’re behaving.

It won’t be easy, and many times we’ll want to quit measures most severe.

But isn’t great sacrifice necessary to save this glorious blue sphere

On which we and other life thrive? Without some denial

Of excesses, the virus is the first step of reprisal

And survive we will not such awe-inspiring wrath.

For the next 50 years, let’s take a different path

Here’s to the future of curing Gaia of our cancer.

To finally following what we know is the answer

To restoring Gaia to a lush, vibrant and green state

To altering what will be a most ruinous fate.

Half a century of Earth Day. It’s hard to believe that much time has passed. As a Wisconsinite, I feel particularly proud to be from the same state as Senator Gaylord Nelson, who was instrumental in making the first Earth Day all those years ago.

As History.com lays out with their excellent timeline, Earth Day was a key step in the environmental movement along with publication of “biologist-writer-ecologist” Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring and the passing of the 1963 Clean Air Act and the 1972 Clean Water Act. In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) into law to help keep the environment clean, helping address concerns about air and water pollution.

While one can debate the effectiveness of the EPA and legislation such as the “clean” acts, there’s no denying the U.S. had a serious problem with pollution in many areas.

In 2017, then CityLab author Andrew Small pointed out there were some really hell-ish ones. Look at those pictures. I thought they were concept art for some dystopian fiction, not how parts of the U.S. actually were.

50 years later, COVID-19’s almost shutdown of the global economy has lead to considerable increases in air quality. For instance, Beijing, “known for lung-choking levels of toxic pollution that shroud the city, has had the unusual sight of of clear skies” reported TIME writer Justin Worland on April 1st. However, Mr. Worland also reported that many experts don’t see a “silver lining”, worried about economic impact of the virus and how pollution will rise and return to previous levels once many restrictions are lifted.

As I wrote in my poem, now is a perfect opportunity for both the U.S. and the global community to look at what we are doing to Mother Gaia. The causes for its suffering are many-air pollution, water pollution, fossil fuels, environmental destruction and degradation, rising population and the list goes on and on. But we can do something about them.

As Senator Nelson’s daughter Tia Nelson wrote yesterday, “He (Senator Nelson) believed that we all have the right to clean air and water, and to economic and environmental well-being. And he believed in the power of everyday Americans to make a difference.” The environmental movement has grown by leaps and bounds since the 1970s, Ordinary Americans have shown they are concerned about the environment and Mother Nature with their actions.

Many of the problems afflicting Mother Gaia are vast and will take years to solve, such as replacing fossil fuels with cleaner energy. Yet there is one ill which could be more easily fixed and its removal would not affect our lives nearly as much as completely overhauling parts of the transportation and energy sectors.

Unfortunately, as one pollutant recedes, another could be taking its place. With most of us forced into our homes and limited in our choices, delivery services have skyrocketed. Specifically, food delivery, by both restaurants and others, is “300% more popular” during the crisis than a month before, according reporting done by Yahoo! Finance, referencing a YELP report.

What does much delivery food come in?

Plastics, that magical substance!

They have become ubiquitous in modern life. As Norwegian diplomat, politician and director of United Nations Environment Programme Erik Solheim opened the 2018 study “Single-use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability”:

“Plastic is a miracle material. Thanks to plastics, countless lives have been saved in the health sector, the growth of clean energy from wind turbines and solar panels has been greatly facilitated and safe food storage has been revolutionized.

But what makes plastic so convenient in our day-to-day lives- it’s cheap- also makes it ubiquitous, resulting in one of our planet’s greatest environmental challenges….Plastic packaging accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste globally, and much of it is thrown away within just a few minutes of its first use. Much plastic may be single-use, but that does not mean it is easily disposable. When discarded in landfills or in the environment, plastic can take up to a thousand years to decompose.”

It’s the classic double-edged sword- plastic makes some amazing things possible, but it also devastates the environment at a record rate. Consider ordering food during the pandemic. Places often provide plastic cutlery, bags, containers and the list goes on and on. You eat the food within a few minutes, and that plastic used to contain+consume it, which was used once, could potentially rot in a landfill for a millennium.

It’s easy to see how we got into “the plastic convenience”-plastic take-out containers, plastic bags at the grocery store, plastic water bottles, and the list goes on and on. Yes, the world is more aware of the danger it presents, but much work remains to be done. As the above quoted UN’s study reveals:

“Only nine percent of the nine billion tonnes of plastic the world has ever produced has been recycled. Most ends up in landfills, dumps or in the environment. If current consumption patterns and waste management practices continue, then by 2050 there will be around 12 billion tonnes of plastic litter in landfills and the environment. By this time, if the growth in plastic production continues at its current rate, then the plastics industry may account for 20 per cent of the world’s total oil consumption.”

Those are some sobering projections. 9% recycling rate- over 90% ends up unrecycled. Let that sink in. Plastics industry may account for 20 percent of global oil consumption? Let that sink in.

Pinch me, I’m dreaming!

The sad part is that these plastics aren’t providing an essential service most of the time- rather, they are subsidizing our fast paced, high consumption lifestyles. But that’s a silver lining- drastically reducing them won’t truly impact our quality of life. We can do without plastic bags, containers, cutlery and the like.

The UN programme offers a lot of recommendations for reducing plastics for governments, but we, the citizens, don’t have to wait to get started. Personally, I reuse plastic bags for picking up my dog’s bathroom breaks, containers for storing screws and other things. It’s amazing what you can do with plastics once you think about it.

Yet, the real blow to plastic pollution is to limit food delivery and buying materials made from it. Isn’t our planet worth fewer pizzas and water bottles? Once you stop using them, you may not even notice they’re gone.

If you’re really ambitious, you could make some plastic art! The power of art to both demonstrate the problem but yet find beauty in creating something is amazing. Why not do it too?

Moving away from single-use plastics will be easier than redoing the transportation and and energy sectors, for example. The effect of less plastic pollution will be real, gratifying and could start a snowball effect into more action.

We must embark upon this first step to save ourselves from Mother Gaia’s upcoming wrath.

As we begin another 50 years of Earth Day, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, we have to think about our effects on the environment, both large and small, that contribute to Gaia’s suffering. We can turn crisis into opportunity if we are prepared.

Forgo the plastic cutlery, bags, containers and the like as much as possible. If you must use them, reuse or create with them.

Do it to save our glorious, blue sphere, which provides us life.

Otherwise, Mother Gaia will take away what she has provided, restoring itself to a lush, vibrant and and green state.

With or without us.

I’d prefer humanity to be around to see that.

Wouldn’t you?

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Patrick McCorkle

I am a young professional with keen interests in politics, history, foreign languages and the arts.