[3-min read] Was it middle school when I first learned that the earth wouldn’t exist after the death of the sun? Back then—in the early 1980s—and for several years after hearing that apocalyptic fact, I assumed human beings could still be earth inhabitants on the very day the sun died. I had imagined what that might look like if I were still alive then: a spectacular, cosmic flash of the final solar moment followed by a sentient flash just before my demise and then . . . nothing.

Inspired by a catastrophic oil spill in the Santa Barbara, California, Channel the previous year, the first official Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970. The event involved a nationwide demonstration with twenty million people organized by then Wisconsin Democratic senator and environmental and social activist, Gaylord Nelson, and Harvard grad student Denis Hayes. Nelson had worked with presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon to usher in a decade of conservation efforts. That would eventually bash headlong into the wall of the Reagan era, which played out partly as a reversal of conservation policy coupled with ecological deception that included the fossil fuel industry running ads to assure Americans that what earth needed was more carbon dioxide.

(If only that were true, given a single bitcoin transaction releases about 402 kg of CO2 and annually, transactions release around thirty-seven megatons of carbon dioxide, which is comparable to the emissions of certain cities and smaller countries. U.S. gaming platforms—think PlayStation—are reputed to be equally polluting.)

In 1986, I paid four hundred dollars for my first car, a used 1974 Datsun B-210. It needed new rings and burned through a quart of oil in a week and whenever I started the engine, an ominous cloud of black smoke would billow out. I don’t remember learning of Earth Day, but I knew of greenhouse gasses and the ozone hole, and I was ashamed of my contribution to what we were about to call global warming. I even quit using aerosol hairspray, which was a significant sacrifice for a teenager in the 80s. But the Datsun was all I could afford. Thankfully, by the time I read Al Gore’s 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, I was driving a newer (more efficient), small-model pickup truck.

Though Earth Day gained enough traction to eventually be celebrated by a billion citizens worldwide, in industrial and political arenas, policy and action didn’t keep pace with environmental degradation. When Nelson passed away in 2005, environmental activist Greta Thunberg was two years old. Originally notorious for her “school strike for climate,” Thunberg, continues to challenge world leaders and tirelessly advocate for change with assurance for the rest of us that, “Hope comes from action.” My effort to reduce household food waste and the reusable bags and cups I carry with me are steps I’ve been assured that if we all took, would significantly help the environment.

In 2012, I bought a new Mini Cooper. Its gas mileage was improved from the pickup truck. (Full disclosure: Anyone who knows how not tall I am knows I belong behind the wheel of a Mini.) Still, I was a member of a car culture and a two-person, two-vehicle family in a state plagued by drought and wildfires.

Between 2017 and 2021, an unprecedented number of environmental and climate policies were reversed. Meanwhile, in 2020, a record-breaking twenty-two climate disasters occurred in the U.S. alone, causing $95 billion worth of damage. That was also the year I sold my Mini (we’re now a one-vehicle family) and moved to Minneapolis in large part because it was a walkable-bikeable city. As a climate migrant, I also believed it to be a region where I could better-tolerate climate change. That felt like significant action. I can buy groceries, a latte (in a reusable cup), and get a chiropractic adjustment within walking distance from where I live. I can spend lazy Sunday afternoons visiting any of several local breweries all within an easy bike ride.

I’m less naïve and more in awe than when I first learned of the sun’s classification as a finite star. To loosely paraphrase astrophysicist Don Brownlee, co-author of The Life and Death of Planet Earth, it’s beneficial for us to not only protect, but also acknowledge the unique treasure that is our fabulous planet. In the profound words of William Shatner on his return from space, “What I understood, in the clearest possible way, was that we were living on a tiny oasis of life.” What an honor.

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