April 22, is Earth Day, this annual flagship event has achieved a great deal in the last 44 years. In the US and around the world, Earth Day leads the way on issues associated with environmental advocacy. Earth Day not only raises awareness, it encourages people to act in defense of planetary ecology and local environmental issues throughout the year.
If there is one thing we have learned from the IPCC’s efforts, it is that science alone has not been able to change our current trajectory. Despite decades of peer reviewed research (much of it predating the IPCC), a mountain of solid scientific evidence has not managed to build the critical mass required to augur change. If we are to change our course we will need to continue to grow grassroots environmentalism and events like Earth Day play a crucial role.
From its early origins in 1970 to its present day incarnation, Earth Day has become the leading environmental event in the world. On the inaugural Earth Day in 1970, 20 million people across the US, stood up for the environment. The event is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network, and it is celebrated in more than 192 countries. More than a billion people around the world celebrate Earth Day and engage in actions that will lessen our impact on the planet.
In 2014, these actions cover a wide range of issues including greening our cities, reducing energy use, increasing renewable energy, conserving forests, and saving wild elephants. People have committed to more than one billion “Acts of Green.” To see the pledges made or to make one of your own click here.
At a 1969 UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day in recognition of the Earth, to be first celebrated on March 21, the first day of spring or Vernal Equinox in the northern hemisphere.
One of the early advocates of government action in support of better environmental stewardship was US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. In 1969 Nelson began to think of ways he could marshal people to demonstrate the way people actively protested the Vietnam War. Nelson got activist Denis Hayes involved to organize the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.
In the months which followed the first Earth Day, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was born and environmental issues were on the US political map. In the years which followed the celebration went global. In 1990 Hayes organized events in 141 nations and now, thanks in part to Earth Day, environmentalism is mainstream.
Earth Day is about far more then empty advocacy, the day has helped to foster meaningful change. In the early days people demanded federal action on air pollution and land contamination. Subsequently, a number of legislative measures have been passed along with a wide range of regulatory actions from government agencies including the EPA. Thanks in part to Earth Day, the air and water are now much cleaner in the US than they were.
Although we now face more difficult and less visible environmental problems. It is hard to see how skyrocketing rates of carbon (now at 400 ppm) and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are causing climate change. As we rapidly head towards devastating temperature increases, Earth Day’s efforts to raise awareness become even more pressing.
We need grassroots action now more than ever. Events like Earth Day serve as powerful catalysts to help get larger numbers of people involved so that we can succeed in changing our perilous trajectory.
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