Earth Day is an annual event created to celebrate the planet’s environment and raise public awareness about pollution. The day, marked on April 22, is observed worldwide with rallies, conferences, outdoor activities and service projects. Started as a grassroots movement, Earth Day created public support for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and contributed to the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act and several other environmental laws. The idea for Earth Day was proposed by then-Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, who died in 2005.
The first Earth Day was in 1970. Nelson, after seeing the damage done by a 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, was inspired to organize a national “teach-in” that focused on educating the public about the environment. Nelson recruited Denis Hayes, a politically active recent graduate of Stanford University, as national coordinator, and persuaded U.S. Rep. Pete McCloskey of California to be co-chairman. With a staff of 85, they were able to rally 20 million people across the United States on April 20, 1970. Universities held protests, and people gathered in public areas to talk about the environment and find ways to defend the planet.
“Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values,” according to a history of Earth Day by the Earth Day Network, which was founded by the event’s organizers to promote environmental citizenship and action year-round.
Reflecting on the 10th anniversary of Earth Day, Nelson wrote in an article for EPA Journal, “It was on that day that Americans made it clear that they understood and were deeply concerned over the deterioration of our environment and the mindless dissipation of our resources.”
In 1995, President Bill Clinton awarded Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom for being the founder of Earth Day. This is the highest honor given to civilians in the United States.
Modern Earth Day:
Earth Day continued to grow over the years. In 1990, it went global, and 200 million people in 141 countries participated in the event, according to the Earth Day Network.
Earth Day 2000 included 5,000 environmental groups and 184 countries. Hayes organized a campaign that focused on global warming and clean energy. “The world’s leaders in Kyoto, Japan, in late 1997, acknowledged the scientific fact that the leading cause of global warming is carbon emissions from fossil-fuel consumption, and that something must be done to address those rising emissions,” Hayes told National Geographic.
In 2010, for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, 225,000 people gathered at the National Mall for a climate rally. Earth Day Network launched a campaign to plant 1 billion trees, which was achieved in 2012, according to the organization.
The impact of Earth Day:
Although Earth Day has become mainstream, surveys show that environmentalism may be stumbling. According to recent Gallup polls, 42 percent of Americans believe that the dangers of climate change are exaggerated, and less than half say that protection of the environment should be given priority over energy production.
But Earth Day is still important because it reminds people to think about humanity’s values, the threats the planet faces and ways to help protect the environment, said Susan Clayton, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at The College of Wooster in Ohio.
“Thinking about the history of environmental activism and the way individuals have worked together to change policy can make us more optimistic about the ability to make positive changes in the future,” Clayton said. Mia Yamaguchi, outreach coordinator at the CoolClimate Network at the University of California, Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, agreed. “There are many, many things that any one person can do to manage their own environmental impacts, which I think makes it really different from worries like the national debt or U.S. foreign policy,” Yamaguchi told Live Science in 2011.
In those cases, “I can probably write a letter to a politician, maybe donate to a cause,” she said. “But if I actually start looking at what it would take to improve my vehicle’s fuel efficiency by 5 miles per gallon, that makes a big difference.” The CoolClimate Network has a variety of online widgets for people interested in calculating their own energy footprint.
Earth Day activities:
Each year, corporations and activists create new projects, initiatives and campaigns to protect and restore the Earth. Children in the United States often celebrate by creating Earth Day-themed crafts and school projects.
According to a survey from device recycler ecoATM, 30 percent of those polled plant a tree for Earth Day, and 23 percent clean up a local park. About 47 percent of those polled associate Earth Day with recycling.
Here are some Earth Day ideas from people around the world:
There are two simple ways to celebrate Earth Day to make the world a little better,” said Nathaniel Weston, an associate professor of environmental science at Villanova University. “The first is to promote understanding of important environmental issues so that more people are aware of the critical actions we need to take to protect our environment. The second is to commit yourself to service on or around Earth Day — plant some trees, clean up a stream or help your local community garden.”
“Take a walk in nature and simply appreciate it, plant a tree or a flower, pick up a discarded bottle and recycle it (even if it isn’t yours), turn off your printer for a day, power off your computer and take a tech break, go vegetarian for a day, use a certified natural skin-care product. These are just a few simple ways to make a positive impact for yourself and for our Earth,” Jennifer Barckley, director of brand communications and values at The Body Shop, a chain of bath and body products, told Live Science.
“A simple way that everyone can celebrate Earth Day to make the world a better place is to turn off the lights in their own homes and in their offices … not just sometimes, but all of the time,” said Helene King, a member of the LifeBridge Health hospitals’ Health Green Team in Baltimore. “It may sound simple, but how many times have you left the lights on when you could be saving energy?”
“As of the first of this year, the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi has begun implementing a ban on disposable plastic to help decrease pollution within the city and ultimately the planet. According to the National Green Tribunal (NGT), cutlery, bags, cups, and various forms of single-use plastic are now prohibited from use in the NCT. The measure is among the steps being taken by companies and the government to reduce the use of plastic and improve practices related to its disposal.
India, the world’s largest democracy, has a growing population which causes a growing plastic waste problem. Plastic is illegally burnt at many dumpsites causing a lot of air pollution and smog. If the plastic isn’t burnt, then it ends up in the ocean. In fact, according to the Times of India, approximately 60 percent of the plastic that resides in the ocean originates from India. Regarding plastics, this initiative is a great first step for India and is a policy that can and should be expanded throughout the country and taken worldwide.
This Earth Day, April 22nd, 2017 provides a perfect opportunity for communities worldwide to follow this lead and take similarly ambitious actions to preserve and protect our planet” – Eunyque Sykes
Earth Day 2017 Theme: Environmental and Climate Literacy
On April 22nd, Earth Day Network (EDN), global coordinator for Earth Day, is launching its Earth Day 2017 three-year campaign for Environmental & Climate Literacy. The campaign is focused on promoting mandatory environmental and climate literacy along with civic engagement and sustainable economic development.
Earth Day 2017 will see teach-ins around the world and a March for Science rally on the National Mall that will bring together scientists and supporters to demand that our leaders recognize the scientific truths across all disciplines, including climate change and other environmental issues.
“We need to build a global citizenry fluent in the concepts of climate change and aware of its unprecedented threat to our planet,” says Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network. “Environmental and climate literacy is the engine not only for creating green voters and advancing environmental and climate laws and policies but also for accelerating green technologies and jobs.”
Using the teach-in concept deployed at the very first Earth Day in 1970, EDN will build an international movement with the following goals:
- Educating citizens about the environmental and climate issues they face and creating a world that internalizes environmental values and develops sustainable communities for all people
- Mobilizing a global citizenry to proclaim the truth of climate change.
- Empowering the public with the civic engagement and public outreach skills necessary to take action for the environment in their local communities.
In 2020, Earth Day will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Five-year campaign, which began in 2015, continues to build on these efforts. Goals by Earth Day 2020 include:
- Continuing to build the world’s largest environmental service project, A Billion Acts of GreenÒ with the goal of reaching 5 billion acts by 2020.
- Planting 7.8 billion trees, one for each person on Earth, starting in 2016.
- Launching our 2017 campaign for global climate and environmental literacy.
“As we face the realities of climate change – unpredictable temperatures, endangered species, and an increasing number of severe weather events – ensuring that our children are prepared to become environmentally literate citizens is more essential than ever, said Dan Abrams, Director of Earth Day.
“Earth Day Network is the largest recruiter to the environmental movement, and works year round to support civic action. 2017 is a historic year for activists all over the world who are uniting to promote climate and environmental literacy and activism with more than 1 billion people participating each year,” said Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network. This year’s D.C. rally and teach-in, along with activities across the world, will kick off a week of action throughout local communities to support science across all disciplines.
Earth Day Network is publishing Earth Day and Teach-In toolkits online that lay out steps for holding a successful event. To learn more about Earth Day Network and March for Science go to www.earthday.org. To schedule an interview, contact Denice Zeck, firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-355-8875.