2021 marks the 51st anniversary of the very first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, which is commonly referred to as the birth of modern environmental movements. However, not many may be aware of what happened in the spring of 1970, why it mattered, and how far it has transformed our actions towards environmental issues.
Earth Day 1970 was triggered by numerous events in the 1960s United States, including the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring on pesticides in 1962, the Santa Barbara oil spill, and the Cuyahoga River fire both in 1969. In response to these events, in September 1969, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson announced the idea of a “National Environmental Teach-in Day” across college campuses on April 22, 1970 – a Wednesday that was sufficiently distant from both winter and finals and could potentially mobilize the greatest number of students. Nelson then recruited a group of students as organizers for this initiative, in which the most senior was the 25-year-old Denis Hayes. This day was later renamed Earth Day and transformed into a national movement with not only teach-ins, but also panels, lectures, demonstrations, cleanups, and performances. More than 2,000 colleges, thousands of primary and secondary schools, and communities participated in the event, which amounted to over 20 million people of different socio-economic and political backgrounds. Despite its name, Earth Day 1970 did not end within a day, as the event in certain places lasted for weeks; and it would be more accurate to name the event “Earth Spring”, argued historian Adam Rome.
20 years after the very first Earth Day, on April 22, 1990, Denis Hayes mobilized approximately 200 million people in 141 countries and officially brought this event to the world. Since then, Earth Day has been celebrated globally, each year with different themes and a wide range of in-person and virtual activities – an annual opportunity for activists to demonstrate their support for a better environment for humankind.
Earth Day has marked many victories for activists not only in the United States but also around the world. During the first few years after Earth Day 1970, America had witnessed the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, the promulgation of substantial legislation that governed different environmental issues, and, consequently, fundamental changes in how industries operated in the States. Earth Day 1990, the first global Earth Day, boosted recycling efforts worldwide and evoked attention on climate change and clean energy. On Earth Day 2016, the Paris Agreement, the international treaty on climate change adopted by 191 Member States, was signed.
However, the significance of Earth Day has transcended and will transcend, any of the aforementioned milestones. Every Earth Day allows us to educate and be educated on the Earth, contemporary problems that affect our planet, and the vast implications stemmed from such problems. It also presents us the chance to indicate our collective concerns about environmental issues and demand for prompt actions and serves as the catalyst for major environmental policy changes around the world.
In 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic is still looming over all of us, Earth Day this year will still follow its virtual format in 2020, with a three-day program on April 20-22 consisting of youth and education summits, workshops, panel discussions, and performances, among others. Focal programs of Earth Day 2021 are:
- The Canopy Project: a global reforestation program in areas that are most at-risk of climate change and environmental degradation;
- Foodprints for the Future: a campaign on reducing foodprints and following climate-conscious diets to tackle climate change;
- Climate and Environmental Literacy: a call for compulsory climate and environmental education in schools;
- The Great Global Cleanup: a program that mobilizes residents everywhere to pick up trash in their localities; and
- Global Earth Challenge: a project engaging millions in collecting data for scientific projects, such as insect populations, air quality, plastics, and food security.
Should you aspire to participate in Earth Day this year, please consider signing up for local tree-planting and cleanup events, which could be found here or on social media. You can also attempt to cut down on your foodprints by trying out plant-based food and more environment-conscious recipes. Zero-waste initiatives are also encouraged – which you can begin by learning about different types of plastics and their respective solutions through our past article here. Furthermore, in the spirit of the “Earth Spring” 1970, it should be understood that your actions on a single Earth Day, while appreciated, would not suffice and that our planet and our environment, more than ever, need your sustained efforts in environmental protection.
If you hesitate to join Earth Day since you are afraid that your actions would not exert much influence, please remember that the very first Earth Day also had a humble beginning. It was instigated by a progressive politician and organized by a grassroots group of college students, but it eventually grew into a global movement that involves millions of people and achieves significant victories for the environment worldwide.
If you are interested in doing your parts in celebration of Earth Day through manageable and attainable actions, please contact the Evergreen Labs team today!