Through a Lens: Earth Day Edition | Presbyterian Historical Society

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Through a Lens: Earth Day Edition

April 22, 2024

1970: the year that saw the birth of the modern environmental movement. And now here we are, in 2024, celebrating that birth for the 54th year in a row. On April 22nd, we'll be singing—not happy birthday, but happy Earth Day!

The modern environmental movement was a long time coming. In the decades leading up to the first Earth Day protest, the possible negative effects of the ever-turning wheel of progress and industry on the surrounding environment were not given much thought. Rather, mainstream America remained largely oblivious to environmental concerns, not realizing that we were actively digging our own planet-sized grave.

And then, in 1962, Rachel Carson's NYT bestselling book, Silent Spring, hit the shelves. The environmental manifesto sold more than half a million copies in over twenty countries, illuminating the harsh reality of pesticide-use—Carson refers to them as "biocides"—and peeling back the curtain on how such practices damage whole ecosystems. Silent Spring was a commercial success, and it helped to rekindle the environmental movement in the U.S.

Obviously, Carson was not the only figure in play in regards to the birth of Earth Day.

Introducing Wisconsin junior Senator Gaylord Nelson, who, after witnessing the ravages of the Santa Barbara oil spill, began to take steps toward raising public consciousness about environmental pollution. Senator Nelson got in touch with Denis Hayes, a young activist, who he recruited to organize teach-ins on college campuses—and, later, to help him work to spread the information throughout the broader public. Together they chose April 22, a day that fell between Spring Break and Final Exams, in order order to maximize the greatest student participation.

By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other first-of-their-kind environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act. Two years later congress passed the Clean Water Act.

Ever since that first Earth Day in 1970, groups and individuals from across the nation have continued to come together, year after year, to celebrate the beauties and wonders of the natural world, but also to advocate on behalf of our shared planet.

Here are some nature-oriented images from our Religious News Service Photograph Collection to inspire your love of the earth and all of its inhabitants this Earth Day!

WAITING FOR MOTHER TO RETURN, #483. From the RNS Photograph Collection.

The caption for this image is short and sweet. "Two fawns resting at the base of a tree patiently await the return of their mother," it says. "Note the almost perfect camouflage." The little babies do blend into the bark of the tree nook they've nestled into, don't they? Speaking of trees: they have their own holiday! The Friday following Earth Day is Arbor Day, a secular day of observance in which individuals and groups are encouraged to plant trees. 

"But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind." (JOB 12:7-10)

NEATH THE TOADSTOOL PARASOLS, #481. From the RNS Photograph Collection.

Your first instinct when seeing this photo might be to shrink away—but toads deserve love, too! This amphibian serves a purpose, its habits and the facets of its daily life finding balance among the habits of the other creatures who share its environment. We get a little more insight from the caption, which tells us that, "This benignant citizen of the garden, devours insect pests." Basically, he keeps the bugs away from the plants. How helpful! I imagine that he's worked hard satisfying his craving for insects, and is taking a little breather beneath his "toadstool parasols," grabbing a little bit of a reprieve from the sun.

The caption continues, "His dry, warty skin is like that of his toadstool parasols in appearance—but they are not so innocent as he, for they are of the Amanita family and may be fatally poisonous." Uh-oh. Note to self: always be kind to the environment, but be mindful of the things you aren't familiar with! When out exploring, it's probably the safest idea to research the plants, mushrooms, and other items you discover before you reach out to touch them. Just in case!

THE MOTH AND THE IRIS, #482. From the RNS Photograph Collection.

"Perhaps in your garden you may have seen one of these beautiful Cecropia Moths as it rested on the stalk of an Iris. The combination of colors is a truly marvelous one." 

The Cecropia Moth is actually the largest moth native to North America. Female Cecropia's have been seen with a wingspan of five to seven inches or more! 

These cuties didn't come with a caption, so we'd like to try our hand at one ourselves. How about, "Snout kisses at playtime"? Or, "Goat begrudingly accepts smooch"? Either way, we think this is just the cutest. This Earth Day, we'll be cuddling our pups a little bit closer--and probably signing up for goat yoga. Who knows.

PC-44465. A squirrel scoots up a tree carrying what may be a Winter's eve snack. 1973. From the RNS Photograph Collection.

Even the little animals deserve ample snackage! We can learn a lot from squirrels and other small creatures--to be more observant, to notice the small things, and to always carry a treat with you.

This Earth Day, we hope you spend some time outside, meditating on the vastness of this world that we live in. Perhaps you'll feel so inclined as to join an Earth Day event—say, picking up trash at your local park, or even just around your neighborhood. Perhaps you'll feel inspired to adopt a low-waste lifestyle—say, cutting out the use of plastic utensils and paper plates from your daily habits; investing in a reusable water bottle or picking up a metal straw; trying out beeswax wraps instead of plastic Ziploc baggies. However you intend to celebrate Earth Day, we hope that you move throughout the world with respect, awe, and consideration.


Learn more about Earth Day:

Learn more about Rachel Carson: Rachel Carson: Care for Creation

Browse the RNS Photograph Collection in Pearl: