Re-Igniting the Teaching and Protective Power of Earth Day:

Just 3 months after the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, I took my first steps on the path to found TreePeople. I was 15, and what I learned was captivating and urgent.

I’d experienced years of air pollution burning my lungs, growing up in Los Angeles; but it was at an Earth Day “Teach-In” that I learned about pollution’s impact on my health, and how We The People, could enact laws to clean up the air and protect ourselves, our families and our community.  

I was shocked when I arrived at summer camp weeks later. I learned the same pollution hurting me was killing trees all around our camp and throughout the forests of southern California. I learned how forests cleaned the air, captured and cleaned the rainwater, prevented floods, and made life possible.  

The US Forest Service rangers said the trees were dying so quickly there would possibly be no forest remaining by the year 2000 — unless someone replanted the forest with smog resistant trees. Since the government wasn’t doing anything, I figured it was up to kids like me and my fellow campers to take action.  

And we did! That summer was a lot of of hard work. But a life-long passion was born as we bonded and watched our seedlings bring new life to a piece of dying forest. Now, over 3 million people have been engaged to plant and revitalize local forests, parks, streets, schools and homes.

1975 staff photo

Our work alone didn’t save the forests. We the people of the United States did, by speaking up and asking lawmakers to pass the Federal Clean Air Act and California air protection laws that dramatically reduced damaging pollutants. We spoke up for other laws, like the Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts, to protect people and wildlife, neighborhoods, schools, parks, creeks, beaches and oceans. Those protections worked and have saved millions of lives.

Today, we face challenges as great on our first Earth Day almost 50 years ago.  

Increasingly extreme weather fueled by climate change is taking lives, costing billions of dollars and posing serious threats to our health, safety and survival here in America and for people around the world. The forests in and around our city are dying– more than 100 million trees died in the last few years in the Southern Sierras.   

The threats, damage and costs are real, but in America, we’ve barely responded with sufficiently proactive and protective action.  Despite more than 45 years of excellent climate science consensus, a well-documented and extremely well-funded and organized dis-information and lobbying campaign of climate denial has very effectively prevented most Americans from taking action to protect their families and communities, and from effectively preparing for increased flooding, drought, heat, wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes.

Instead of simply celebrating on Earth Day, it’s time to re-ignite the teaching and protective powers of Earth Day to inform and inspire ongoing committed personal and public action.

Dr. Jane Goodall visiting Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale this Spring to plant a tree with TreePeople and speak to students about the importance of being the next generation of climate champions

For TreePeople, Earth Day is every day, and we are responding by increasing our public and youth education, watershed and forest restoration, research, and public policy work.

Despite the very real threats, TreePeople sees the opportunities and pathways to achieve an equitably safe, fun, beautiful, climate resilient and sustainable city.  

But it won’t happen without YOU. Our local, state and federal representatives need to hear your strong demands for action.  And the trees need you too– to strategically select, place, plant and care for them– and to capture the rain so they live and protect us.

Thank YOU for making this work possible. We are counting on you too.

Happy Earth Day. Now let’s get back to work!

By Andy Lipkis

Andy Lipkis is a practical visionary who has dedicated his life to healing the environment while improving the lives of individuals and communities. He founded TreePeople in Los Angeles in 1973 at age 18 and continues to serve as its President. Andy has spearheaded an approach using trees and forest-inspired technologies to make cities sustainable while mitigating floods, drought, pollution, and climate change. Called “Functioning Community Forests,” it is being demonstrated in L.A. as a model for cities everywhere.