by Helen Xia, CHS Student Writer

Have you heard about the basins detected on Mars? Already, experts are devising ways astronauts could utilize this newfound resource. For instance, not only could this be used to discover more about Mars’ history, but it could also be used more directly, such as for rocket fuel. Something else, however, emerged from the finding of water on this extraterrestrial mass: questions about whether intricate life can one day be found on Mars—or, better yet, could life from Earth ever be transferred there in the future?

The answer is uncertain for now, but one thing’s for sure: Humanity thriving on Mars is no easy feat. From high radiation levels to bitter cold—approximately negative 81 degrees Fahrenheit, to be precise—lack of oxygen is not the only factor preventing us from abandoning our home on Earth.

All of that was a convoluted way to say that Earth is our only definite home. There is no guarantee we’ll have a “second chance” to migrate to another body in space if Earth becomes uninhabitable. Hence, some critics question, “Why expend so much time and resources tapping into Mars when those efforts can be used to preserve where we currently live?”

Fortunately, amongst extraordinary discoveries beyond Earth’s atmosphere, there is a day designated for understanding the struggles here on Earth and appreciating what our home has to offer: Earth Day.

Despite not being an official national holiday, Earth Day is celebrated by more than 1 billion every year on April 22. It is often regarded as the origin of the modern movement for environmental conservation. The environmental discussion—more prevalent now than ever—arose decades ago. The first Earth Day materialized in 1970, amid copious amounts of leaded gas emissions from automobiles and the soaring of industrialization. Back then, there was scarcely any legislation combatting these harmful practices, if any.

Junior Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin recognized this unsustainable conduct and employed the powerful voice of youth to amplify his message. Inspired by the anti-war protests occurring during this period, Senator Nelson wanted to incorporate students’ vigorous demands for change into the environmental debate as well. To accomplish this, he organized teach-ins on college campuses with Denis Hayes, who left his academic career at Harvard Law School to pursue environmental advocacy. This explains the seemingly random date of Earth Day: To maximize student participation, Senator Nelson and Hayes purposefully selected April 22, which falls in between college students’ spring break and final exam season.

The event quickly escalated beyond merely college campuses and saw remarkable success. On April 22, 1970, about 20 million people throughout the country—roughly 10 percent of the nation at the time—gathered in various cities and protested against the damage done by careless, uncontrolled industry. Since the first Earth Day, the United States government has formed the Environmental Protection Agency and passed several laws dedicated to environmental conservation, including the Clean Air Act.

Don’t worry, environment-centered initiatives don’t need to be as large-scale as the ones described previously to be effective. An example of a force for environmental good is right in our community: At Catoctin High School (CHS), Brian Brotherton’s Catoctin Conservation Club (CCC) is committed to advancing sustainability within the school and beyond. To accurately illuminate the notable achievements of this club, I interviewed CCC’s incredible president, Gina Lin.

For starters, what is CCC all about? “The Catoctin Conservation Club has been working toward sustainability since its founding in 2019. Although it’s gone through a series of name changes, the goal of CCC stays the same: increasing environmental awareness at CHS and implementing ambitious sustainability practices in various forms,” explained Lin. “To say that the club is juggling a few tasks is an understatement. We worked diligently and submitted the Maryland Green School Application before its deadline in early March. CHS used to be Green School certified. The dawn of CCC was full of momentum, but soon after came the pandemic, erasing much progress, one of them being the expiration of the Green School’s Application. There is a certain set of criteria schools have to meet regarding student-led action, community partnerships, and sustainable school systems [to qualify].”

According to Lin, some highlights of CCC’s hard work consist of partnering with National Park Services to organize a successful on-campus tree planting; applying for and receiving the Maryland State Department of Education’s School Waste Reduction and Composting Program grant; arranging a school-wide recycling movement, titled Recycling Battle Royale, and educating students on proper recycling habits; having a few members of the club—including Natalie Hoyt, Keelyn Swaney, and Lin—attend the Frederick County District 5 Budget Hearing to advocate for more sustainable practices around the county; and welcoming the Frederick County Public Schools’ Sustainability director and operations manager to CHS to discuss next steps with the club.

The CCC is, evidently, a treasure at Catoctin! I can attest that the organization’s positive influence can be regularly felt all through my school.

Managing the numerous dynamic components of CCC requires much dedication and endurance. A problem as extensive as the climate crisis may seem overwhelming, but from her experience, Lin urges, “The most important lesson [I’ve learned] is to just try. Even if you can’t get everyone on board with your ideas, the best you can do is try and influence those who actually demonstrate interest. You never know the full impact of your actions. Communication is so important—I cannot stress this enough. You need to be a good communicator and not afraid to put yourself out there in order to get things going.”

Hopefully, this article left you feeling hopeful or at least taught you something about our planet and the efforts to protect it. Everyone is capable of uniting and outputting good in this world we share.

I will leave you with the following message of encouragement from Lin about conservation: “Every bit of action is significant and will be meaningful in the long run. We can’t be indifferent to the things burning in front of our faces. One less piece of plastic that ends up in the Chesapeake and feeds into the Atlantic is one more marine organism saved. Our actions are what causes eutrophication, the difference between critically endangered and extinct, and the amount of property destruction in coastal areas. The climate crisis is an indisputable issue and one I wish wasn’t politically charged. This is the future of humanity we are saving.”

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