The history of Earth Day is an interesting one. Especially as we all know that Earth Day is pretty much like Christmas for environmentalists. It’s a time where many communities, governments and businesses evaluate their impact on the environment and create solutions to how we can do better. While there’s a lot of positive environmental stories for Earth Day, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we simply aren’t doing enough to protect our planet. So let’s use this earth day to focus on ways we can.
The history of Earth Day
Annually on April 22nd, we celebrate what is known as Earth Day. This began back in 1970s America as a way to bring attention to the growing discussion about the impact humans were having on the planet.
According to the Earth Day website, Americans were consuming vast amounts of leaded gas through massive, inefficient cars during this time. Industry belched out air pollution and chemical sludge with almost no consequences. Mainstream America was oblivious to how a polluted environment threatens human health.
Then in 1962, environmentalist Rachel Carson released her New York Times bestseller Silent Spring. The book was a turning point. Carson raised public awareness and concern for living things, the environment and the links between pollution and public health.
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Planning the first Earth Day in 1970
So in 1970, Democrat Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin had become concerned about the deteriorating environment and oil spills. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, Senator Nelson wanted to recreate the energy of student protests with the emerging concern about pollution. He persuaded Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey to serve as his co-chair.
They recruited activist Denis Hayes to organise University teach-ins on April 22. The date was chosen to maximize student participation. Hayes built a national staff to promote events across the country. The first Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans, 1/10th of the total population at the time, to demonstrate against the impacts of 150 years of industry which was destroying natural environments and affecting human health.
Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment. The nation-changing event enlisted support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city residents and farmers, business and labour leaders. By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of first-of-their-kind environmental laws.
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Earth Day goes global in the 1990s
In the lead up to 1990, activist Denis Hayes was approached by environmental leaders to organise another major campaign for the planet. Earth Day 1990 mobilised 200 million people in 141 countries. This global movement lifted environmental issues onto the world stage. It also gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide.
The event paved the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. US Senator Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role as Earth Day founder.
Earth day 2000
Ten years later and as the millennium approached, Hayes spearheaded another campaign focused on climate change and clean energy. Earth Day 2000 built both global and local conversations via the internet to organize activists in more than 184 countries. This event sent world leaders a clear message: Citizens around the world want clean energy and climate action.
Earth Day is now the largest secular observance in the world. It’s marked by more than a billion people annually as a day of action. As the impact of climate change and environmental destruction becoming realised, the urgency for wide-ranging change is higher than ever.
Now we face even greater challenges with well-funded fossil fuel and big business lobbyists turning environmental protection into a politically divisive issue and undermining progress. Individually, it can easily feel as though we don’t have much power when it comes to protecting the planet. After all, we’ve all had the thought “what does one more plastic bag matter” when about 8 million metric tons of plastic are thrown into the ocean annually.
But we can’t give up. Our planet needs each and every one of us to do everything in our power to do better. And I’m not talking about turning the lights off when we leave a room. I mean we must drastically reduce our individual impacts, promote and elect leaders who will bring about the climate action we need and support businesses who are shaking up their industries to create a standard of sustainability.
Although, we need to remember that some people and communities face barriers that prevent them from doing this. Meanwhile, guilting others for not taking perfect action is the definition of environmental gatekeeping. Never take your climate anger and anxiety out on individuals. Direct it towards the governments and big businesses that have gotten us into this mess.
Eco Action Step
It’s hard to come up with just one eco action step to celebrate Earth Day. Especially when there are so many causes that desperately need our attention. There’s no right or wrong way to be an environmentalist, but I’ve found that focusing my energy on one cause helps me to feel less anxious and more empowered. For me, it’s plastic pollution.
I’m truly determined to see the end of single-use plastic within the near future. That goal is what drives me to continue building my plastic-free business CONCENTR8ED, continue striving towards zero waste in my life and commit my time to anti-plastic initiatives. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about other issues, it just allows me to focus and create the maximum amount of impact.
I’m going to offer 3 possible eco action steps for Earth Day. You can try one, none or all three:
For individual impact, commit to forming one new zero waste or eco-friendly habit and make it happen. Bonus points if you choose one you’ve been putting off for a little while.
For government impact, identify a local government representative in your area that is committing to take the kind of environmental action we need. Look for someone who is offering up action now, not just 2050 targets. Follow this representative on social media, sign up to their email list and join their campaign. Help out where possible when it comes to election time, even if it’s just telling your friends and family why they should vote for them.
For business impact, support sustainable businesses that are shaking up their industries. The best way you can do this is by purchasing from them. If that’s not an option for you, give them some social media love, refer your friends and family and leave positive reviews.