Earth Day was born 49 years ago on April 22 when millions of people worldwide gathered in the streets to draw attention to the decades upon decades of practices that resulted in polluting our planet.

Groups locally and around the globe continued that celebration this week.

Polluted waterways, air poisoned by industrial smog and the side effects of pesticides were among the many concerns in 1970 of individuals who had a clear goal in mind - a clean Earth for future generations. The Earth Day Network launched this year’s theme – Protect Our Species – with the words of the late American biologist Rachel Carson, who in 1962 wrote, “In nature, nothing exists alone.”

Planet Earth has millions of species interacting as part of a complex biological system. Many species, such as bees, giraffes and whales are facing extinction. Scientists link the decline of some plant and wildlife populations to pollution, climate change, razing of forests and poaching.

A study published in 2017 in the Quarterly Review of Biology estimated that Earth has about two billion living species. That’s upwards of a thousand times more than the number of species scientists have specifically identified.To put things in perspective, consider that plants comprise just 0.02 percent of the species, animals 7.3 percent, single-celled organisms 7.3 percent, fungi 7.4 percent and bacteria 78 percent, according to the study.

From birds to fish to flowers to bacteria in our guts, species play an interactive role on Earth.

Though many species are dying out, experts tell us that the rate of extinctions can be slowed down, and some endangered species can recover. But it is imperative that we take swift action. Small steps, such as creating gardens filled with plants to help the pollinators, or starting a rain garden to conserve water, can make a difference. And though the rules seem to be constantly changing, recycle as best you can.

We have seen where actions have resulted in improvements around Northeast Ohio.

The most obvious is the recovery of the Cuyahoga River that gained international fame after catching fire in 1969 when a spark from a train track landed in the polluted water and ignited industrial debris floating in the river. The fire was out within 20 minutes, but it helped to draw attention to an environmental movement that led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to environmental historians. Environmental awareness had been growing before the fire thanks to books like Ms. Carson’s bestseller, “Silent Spring,” which stressed the dangers of pollutants and pesticides.

The fire brought national exposure to the clean water issue and is credited with helping to convince Washington lawmakers to create the Clean Water Act in 1972, which impacted waterways across America.

The concerted effort of many groups to clean up the Cuyahoga River has resulted in a biologically healthier waterway with thriving wildlife and an increase in recreational use.

Just last month, the Ohio EPA announced that fish from the Cuyahoga River are safe to eat.

In fact, 50 years after catching fire, the Cuyahoga was named River of the Year by the American Rivers national conservation group. American Rivers President Bob Irvin called the river’s journey back to health a national success story.

There is still much work to be done to keep our air and water clean and help species thrive.

Though Earth Day was earlier this week, we all must embrace the mission to raise awareness and take steps to keep the planet healthy. Let’s make everyday Earth Day.

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