Every year since 1970, countries around the world have celebrated Earth Day on April 22nd. The late twentieth century saw the realization by mankind that they were having a significant impact on the planet and that measures should be taken to alleviate the damage done before it becomes irreversible. Starting from humble origins, Earth Day events are being held today in nearly every country of the world. In 2017, the March for Science occurs on Earth Day held in Washington DC with other demonstrations in over 600 other cities. The Trump administration’s stance on Climate Change has been the primary driver behind the march.
The origins of Earth Day stem from a 1969 conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) held in San Francisco. During the conference, a peace activist named John McConnell suggested a day to honor the planet and the concept of peace. The first Earth Day was celebrated on the first day of Spring the following year, March 21st, 1970. A separate Earth Day was held on April 22nd of that year and was organized by US Senator Gaylord Nelson as “an environmental teach-in” that was celebrated by approximately 20 million Americans. This first (technically second) Earth Day was observed in two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States. More importantly, it “brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform.”
The 1970 Earth Day events occurred exclusively in the United States with the largest rallies in New York City and Philadelphia. The original coordinator of the 1970 event Denis Hayes met with a group of students at Columbia University the previous winter and they spearheaded the New York event. They coordinated with Mayor John Lindsay who shut down both 5th Avenue and Central Park for the event. Due to the event’s location, it received a massive amount of media coverage. Not to be outshined, the Philadelphia event, held in Fairmount Park, featured many prominent figures for the time including keynote speaker US Senator Edmund Muskie pictured below.
The first two decades of Earth Day celebrations were mainly observed in the United States but in 1990 the event became truly international. Mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting the status of environmental issues onto the world stage, Earth Day activities in 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for a UN Summit in Brazil two years later. Unlike the first Earth Days in 1970, this 20th Anniversary event was waged with stronger marketing tools, greater access to television and radio, and multimillion-dollar budgets. The event coincided with the Mount Everest Earth Day 20 International Peace climb where, for the first time in history, climbers from the United States, Soviet Union, and China ascended a mountain together. The team removed two tons of garbage from the mountain that was left behind by previous climbers.
Earth Day 2000, the thirtieth celebration, combined the ambitious spirit of the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990. This was the first year that Earth Day used the internet as its principal organizing tool, and it proved invaluable nationally and internationally. Kelly Evans, a professional political organizer, served as executive director of the 2000 campaign. The event ultimately enlisted more than 5,000 environmental groups outside the United States, reaching hundreds of millions of people in a record 183 country. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio served as the official host for the event, and about 400,000 participants stood in the cold rain during the course of the day at the New York Event.
Now on its forty-eighth incarnation, Earth Day continues to represent the need for global unity in environmental protection. The focus on Earth Day for most of the twenty-first century has been global climate change and the need for clean fuels. The largest event to date occurred ten years ago in 2007 with thousand of cities participating including Kiev, Caracas, Manila, London, and New York. The 2012 event brought overpopulation back to the forefront of the event which had been overshadowed in previous years. On Earth Day 2016, the Paris Agreement was signed by 120 counties including the United States and China which satisfied a key requirement for the entry into force of the historic draft climate protection treaty adopted by consensus of the 195 nations present at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference also held in Paris.
As mentioned earlier, this year’s Earth Day event coincides with the March for Science held in Washington DC and over 600 cities across the world. The main goals of the march and rally are a call for science that “upholds the common good and to call for evidence-based policy in the public’s best interest.” A large driver behind the event today is the election of US President Donald Trump who called climate change a hoax, resumed construction on the Keystone XL Pipeline, and is working on undoing EPA regulations set in place by the Obama organization. Climate change supports fear that with Trump and other like minded people in charge, climate science will take a step back. They want climate related policy to be non-partisan and not controlled by special interest groups. Interested in participating in Earth Day? Events are going on in hundred of cities including Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus here in Ohio. Happy Earth Day!