Earth Day's Coming of Age

06/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Earth Day and I came of age together. On this 40th anniversary, it seems fitting to look back and see how both of us have changed.

I've been an environmentalist my entire life, even before Senator Gaylord Nelson brought the word into our lexicon on the first Earth Day celebration in 1970. All credit goes to my father and mother, who fed me apples instead of Mallomars, and never let me forget how my actions affect the world around me.

I spent three years in the early '80s living in Inuit communities in Alaska, where I learned how to live a subsistence lifestyle while working on economic development, community gardening and fisheries issues. I was inspired by ground-breaking books like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America.

And, today my husband David and I are co-chairing the first-ever Green Auction with Christie's, which will benefit four top environmental non-profits: Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Central Park Conservancy, Conservation International, and Oceana, whose Ocean Council I chair. The auction is an unprecedented collaboration of environmental, cultural and media organizations to raise the visibility and funding for environmental initiatives.

I'd say that's progress.

We've come a great distance since the first Earth Day, when NASA showed our fragile blue planet from outer space. Now we can go virtually anywhere on the planet using Google Earth and Google Ocean. These tools highlight the interconnectedness of Earth's systems, plus we have better instruments to quantify the threats facing the planet, such as climate change and ocean acidification.

Global environmental regulation has improved, and school curricula increasingly integrate environmental issues. My son comes home now and scolds me to turn off lights so I don't "kill a polar bear."

And as illustrated by today's Green Auction, environmental organizations are increasingly working together. And while there are some big names involved in the event -- Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Cameron Diaz -- it also maintains a grassroots element. Anyone around the world can go online to bid on the silent auction and get involved with the nonprofits.

When I look back 40 years I see great progress. When I look forward I see grave problems -- but they are solvable. I believe in the power of these organizations, and in the strength of individuals, particularly women, like my own mother and Rachel Carson, who taught me that we can make a difference by simply feeding our children well and teaching them about the importance of a healthy planet.

Carson once wrote, "The human race is challenged more than ever before to demonstrate our mastery - not over nature but of ourselves." I hope that on the 80th anniversary of Earth Day, we will look back and find that we have done just that.