It's Earth Day!
22 April marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Earth Day is run by the Earth Day Network, whose mission is “to build the world’s largest environmental movement to drive transformative change for people and planet” by diversifying, educating and activating the environmental movement worldwide.
The first Earth Day in 1970 was born out of a growing environmental consciousness, first awoken by Rachel Carson’s bestselling book Silent Spring and then sparked into life by the devastating oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California in 1969. Senator Gaylord Nelson, who had long been concerned about environmental degradation, wanted to combine this growing consciousness with the energy of student anti-Vietnam War protests. He announced a series of college teach-ins and with his co-chair, Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, recruited activist Denis Hayes to help mobilise the student population. On 22 April 1970 over 20 million Americans from all walks of life participated in that first Earth Day. You can watch some of the original CBS news coverage below.
In a measure of the impact that first Earth Day had, by the end of 1970 the United States Environmental Protection Agency was created and the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act were all passed.
To read about the successes of that first Earth Day is both inspirational and sombre. Inspirational because of the positive changes it led to, but sombre when we reflect that in the 50 years since the momentum generated has perhaps not been kept up and that the vision of the Earth Day Network remains unrealised:
Our world needs transformational change. It’s time for the world to hold sectors accountable for their role in our environmental crisis while also calling for bold, creative, and innovative solutions. This will require action at all levels, from business and investment to city and national government.
While the world is understandably focused on the coronavirus pandemic right now, this vision remains something we not only need to aspire to, but achieve. We all have our part to play and while we may not be able to gather together today in person there are still actions we can take.