EARTH DAY – WHAT IS IT?
Earth Day is an annual event, celebrated on April 22, on which day events worldwide are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It was first celebrated in 1970, and is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network, and celebrated in more than 192 countries each year.
In 1969 at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, a day to honor the Earth and the concept of peace, to first be celebrated on March 21, 1970, was proposed on the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. This day of nature’s equipoise was later sanctioned in a Proclamation and signed by Secretary General U Thant at the United Nations. A month later a separate Earth Day was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in first held on April 22, 1970. Nelson was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award in recognition of his work. While this April 22 Earth Day was focused on the United States, an organization launched in 1970, went international in 1990 and there were organized events in 141 nations. Numerous communities celebrate Earth Week, an entire week of activities focused on environmental issues.
The first Earth Day family had participants and celebrants 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.” It now is observed in 192 countries, and coordinated by the nonprofit Earth Day Network, chaired by the first Earth Day 1970 organizer Denis Hayes, according to whom Earth Day is now “the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year.” Environmental groups have sought to make Earth Day into a day of action which changes human behavior and provokes policy changes.
In the winter of 1969–1970, a group of students met at Columbia University to hear Denis Hayes talk about his plans for Earth Day. Among the group were Fred Kent, Pete Grannis, and Kristin and William Hubbard. This New York group agreed to head up the New York City part of the national movement. Fred Kent took the lead in renting an office and recruiting volunteers. “The big break came when Mayor Lindsay agreed to shut down Fifth Avenue for the event. A giant cheer went up in the office on that day,” according to Kristin Hubbard (now Kristin Alexandre). ‘From that time on we used Mayor Lindsay’s offices and even his staff. I was Speaker Coordinator but had tremendous help from Lindsay staffer Judith Crichton.”
In addition to shutting down Fifth Avenue, the Mayor made Central Park available for Earth Day. The crowd was estimated as more than one million—by far the largest in the nation. Since Manhattan was also the home of NBC, ABC, CBS, The New York Times, Time and Newsweek, it provided the best possible anchor for national coverage from their reporters throughout the country.
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 the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Unlike the first Earth Day in 1970, this 20th Anniversary was waged with stronger marketing tools, greater access to television and radio, and multimillion-dollar budgets.
Earth Day 2000 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 countries. Leonardo DiCaprio was the official host for the event, and about 400,000 participants stood in the cold rain during the course of the day.
To turn Earth Day into a sustainable annual event rather than one that occurred every 10 years, Nelson and Bruce Anderson, New Hampshire’s lead organizers in 1990 formed Earth Day USA. Building on the momentum created by thousands of community organizers around the world, Earth Day USA coordinated the next five Earth Day celebrations through 1995, including the launch of EarthDay.org. Following the 25th Anniversary in 1995, the coordination baton was handed to Earth Day Network.
As the millennium approached, another campaign focused on global warming and pushed for clean energy. The April 22 Earth Day in 2000 combined the big-picture feistiness of the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990. For 2000, Earth Day had the Internet to help link activists around the world. By the time April 22 came around, 5,000 environmental groups around the world were on board, reaching out to hundreds of millions of people in a record 184 countries. Events varied: A talking drum chain traveled from village to village in Gabon, Africa, while hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., USA.
The name “Earth Day” was “an obvious and logical name” suggested by “a number of people” in the fall of 1969.
The first Canadian Earth Day was held on Thursday, September 11, 1980, and was organized by Paul D. Tinari, then a graduate student in Engineering Physics/Solar Engineering at Queen’s University. Flora MacDonald, then MP for Kingston and the Islands and Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs, officially opened Earth Day Week on September 6, 1980 with a ceremonial tree planting and encouraged MPs and MPPs across the country to declare a cross-Canada annual Earth Day. The principal activities taking place on the first Earth Day included educational lectures given by experts in various environmental fields, garbage and litter pick-up by students along city roads and highways as well as tree plantings to replace the trees killed by Dutch Elm Disease.
Earth Day Canada (EDC) is a national environmental charity founded in 1990 that provides Canadians with practical knowledge, tools, and simple easy-to-accomplish actions to support a healthier environment through EDC’s year-round and award-winning programs.
Education: EcoKids supports teachers and students, grades K-8, with free educational resources, curriculum-linked lesson plans including ESL and FSL, and homework help and games for students. EcoMentors offers youth the training and resources they need to facilitate local environmental education workshops with their peers and other young Canadians.
Action: EDC’s challenges, contests and campaigns promote practical, culturally relevant and cost-effective solutions to help individual Canadians support a healthier environment. EDC also encourages action by supporting individuals and community groups in the organization and delivery of local Earth Day (April 22) events.
May there be only peaceful and cheerful Earth Days to come for our beautiful Spaceship Earth as it continues to spin and circle in frigid space with its warm and fragile cargo of animate life.
“Earth Day is the first holy day which transcends all national borders, yet preserves all geographical integrities, spans mountains and oceans and time belts, and yet brings people all over the world into one resonating accord, is devoted to the preservation of the harmony in nature and yet draws upon the triumphs of technology, the measurement of time, and instantaneous communication through space. Earth Day draws on astronomical phenomena in a new way – which is also the most ancient way – by using the vernal Equinox, the time when the Sun crosses the equator making the length of night and day equal in all parts of the Earth. To this point in the annual calendar, EARTH DAY attaches no local or divisive set of symbols, no statement of the truth or superiority of one way of life over another. But the selection of the March Equinox makes planetary observance of a shared event possible, and a flag which shows the Earth, as seen from space, appropriate.”
Activities include street rallies and parades, as well as concerts, tree planting, and clean-up campaigns. In many countries, this annual event is used to enhance political attention and action towards improving the environment, to protect nature and the planet. This observance also provides an opportunity to sign or ratify international environmental conventions.