The 50th anniversary of Earth Day is April 22

Participants in last year’s Watershed Academy for high school students.

By Jim Waltman

April 22 marks the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. The celebration of this transformational moment in the nation’s history comes at a challenging time. There will be no large, joyous gatherings of committed (and casual) environmentalists that we’ve savored in the past.

The novel coronavirus is exploding across the globe, creating widespread anxiety and despair. In keeping with state and federal health recommendations, we’ve closed the Watershed Center to visitors, canceled or postponed programming through at least the month of April, and asked our staff to work remotely from home.

But even in the face of the pandemic, I am heartened by the global movement of young people demanding action to combat climate change and protect biological diversity. This green youth movement gives me hope for our future.

We’ve seen the power of this movement at every scale— from global climate strikes to engagement at our town councils. I witnessed this first hand in early January when a dozen fifth-graders from Hopewell Elementary School appeared in front of the Hopewell Borough Council to speak out in favor of a ban on single-use plastic bags. The council, which had been equivocal on the issue just a few years ago, voted unanimously to enact the ban, which takes effect on Earth Day.

Members of Hopewell Elementary School’s fifth-grade class voice their support for banning plastic bags at a Hopewell Borough Council meeting.

The Watershed Institute seeks to foster youth engagement in environmental protection through formal programming, volunteer projects, and student internships. Although these programs have been suspended for the time being, we’re exploring ways to continue these efforts through new online means that provide for the “social spacing” called for by health professionals.

We’re moving aggressively to add content to our website (thewatershed.org) and social media platforms, posting brief videos and other information about water and the environment every day. I hope that you find this information engaging, informative, and fun for you and your family.

We are working to ensure that, when we get through this pandemic, individuals, schools, businesses, and other institutions will be empowered and equipped to become better stewards of our water and environment through our river-friendly program.

Even as we face new challenges every day of this health crisis, our mission to keep water clean, safe and healthy here in central New Jersey continues to be essential and our scientists, educators, advocates, land stewards, and other professionals continue their work to change attitudes, behaviors, and laws to protect the environment.

This Earth Day will be very different than its 49 predecessors. But I hope you will still use the occasion of Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary to take stock of what you can do to protect the environment. And let us know how we can help.

Good health to you and your family and Happy Earth Day!

Mr. Waltman is the executive director of the Watershed Institute.