Welcome To Earth Day

In previous weeks I have researched and written quite a bit on the history of things many and various. So this week I thought about bringing in a more ‘modern’ touch. I hope you like it. Except of course to set the scene, we should perhaps first consider ourselves and our lovely Earth. Today, we know from radiometric dating that Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Had naturalists in the 1700s and 1800s known Earth’s true age, any early ideas about evolution might have been taken more seriously. We know that life began at least 3.5 billion years ago, because that is the age of the oldest rocks with fossil evidence of life here on Earth. It is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour life, at least as we know it as carbon-based life forms. Whilst large amounts of water can be found throughout the Solar System, only Earth sustains liquid surface water. About 71% of Earth’s surface is made up of the ocean, dwarfing Earth’s polar ice, lakes, and rivers. I could go on about its chronology, including its formation, geological history, origins of life and evolution but not this time! Instead, here is some detail on what is known as Earth Day. So far as I can tell, Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970, when a United States senator from Wisconsin organised a national demonstration to raise awareness about environmental issues. Rallies took place across that country and, by the end of the year, the U.S. government had created its Environmental Protection Agency. Since then, Earth Day has become an annual event around the world on April 22nd to demonstrate support for environmental protection and includes a wide range of events coordinated globally by earthday.org which was formerly the Earth Day Network. It now includes one billion people in more than a hundred and ninety-three countries and the official theme for 2022 is ‘Invest In Our Planet’, with details on the website http://www.earthday.org. In 1969 at a UNESCO conference in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honour the Earth and the concept of peace, to first be observed on March 21, 1970, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. This day in nature was later sanctioned in a proclamation written by McConnell and signed by then Secretary General U Thant at the United Nations. A month later, the United States Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed the idea to hold a nationwide environmental teach-in on April 22, 1970. He hired a young activist to be the National Coordinator and the two of them renamed the event ‘Earth Day’. The event grew beyond the original idea for a teach-in to include the entire United States, with more than 20 million people pouring onto the streets. Key non-environmentally focused partners played major roles and without them, it is likely that the first Earth Day would not have succeeded. Nelson was later awarded a Presidential Medal Of Freedom award in recognition of his work. The first Earth Day was focused on the United States, but in 1990 Denis Hayes, the original national coordinator in 1970, put it on the international stage and organised events in 141 nations. On Earth Day 2016, a landmark Paris Agreement was signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and 120 other countries. This signing 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 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. Since then, numerous communities have continued to engage in Earth Day Week actions, an entire week of activities focused on the environmental issues that the world faces. On Earth Day 2020, over 100 million people around the world observed its 50th anniversary in what has been referred to as the largest online mass mobilisation in history.

But perhaps what really energised the birth of Earth Day was when, on January 28, 1969, an oil well drilled by Union Oil Platform A off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew out. More than three million gallons of oil spewed, killing more than 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions so as a direct reaction to this disaster, activists were mobilised to create good environmental regulation, environmental education, and Earth Day itself. There were a number of proponents of Earth Day who were in the front lines of fighting this disaster, but Denis Hayes, organiser of the first Earth Day said that Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin was inspired to create Earth Day upon seeing Santa Barbara Channel’s 800 square-mile oil slick from an aircraft. On the first anniversary of the oil blowout, January 28, 1970, Environmental Rights Day was created, and the Declaration of Environmental Rights was read. It had been written by Rod Nash during a boat trip across the Santa Barbara Channel whilst carrying a copy of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. The organisers of Environmental Rights Day had been working closely over a period of several months with a Republican Congressman to consult on the creation of their National Environmental Policy Act, the first of many new laws on environmental protection sparked by the national outcry about the blowout and subsequent oil spill and on the Declaration of Environmental Rights.

President Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon plant a tree on the White House South Lawn to recognise the first Earth Day.

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. The 1970s were a period of substantial environmental legislation in the U.S.A., including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Superfund, Toxics Substances Control Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. It saw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the banning of DDT and of lead in petrol. Jimmy Carter was president and the principal Washington, DC event was a festival held in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. It has been said that by mobilising two hundred million people in a hundred and forty-one countries and lifting the status of environmental issues onto the world stage, Earth Day activities in the early 1990’s 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 anniversary was waged with stronger marketing tools, greater access to television and radio, and multimillion-dollar budgets.

The official logo of the Mount Everest Earth Day 20 International Peace Climb.

The Earth Day 20 Foundation highlighted its April 22 activities with a live satellite phone call to members of the historic Earth Day 20 International Peace Climb who called from their base camp on Mount Everest to pledge their support for world peace and attention to environmental issues. The climb was led by Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mount Everest many years earlier and marked the first time in history that mountaineers from the United States, the Soviet Union and China had roped together to climb a mountain, let alone Mount Everest. The group also collected more than two tons of rubbish which was transported down the mountain by support groups along the way that was left behind on Mount Everest from previous climbing expeditions. Warner Bros records released an Earth Day-themed single in 1990 entitled ‘Tomorrow’s World’ and the song featured vocals from various artists. It reached number seventy-four on the ‘Hot Country Songs’ chart dated May 5, 1990. As the millennium approached, another campaign was begun, this time focusing on global warming and pushing for cleaner 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 and by the time the day came around, some five thousand environmental groups world-wide were on board, reaching out to hundreds of millions of people in a record one hundred and eighty-four countries. Events varied, with a ‘talking drum’ chain travelling from village to village in Gabon, Africa, whilst hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., USA. Google’s first Earth Day doodle was in 2001 and the theme for Earth Day 2003 was the Water for Life Campaign. That year, Earth Day Network developed a water quality project called “What’s in Your Water?”. Other water-related events were held on every continent, such as water workshops, exhibitions, concerts, and more in many countries. Educational curricula, teacher’s guides, water testing kits, and posters focused on water. Many other organisations also focused on environmental justice, created events concentrating on low-income communities. These events also worked on building support among low-income communities through clean-ups, park revitalisation and town halls focussing on integrating the environmental movement with community and social justice causes. Since then, Earth Day has been celebrated throughout the world in many and various ways. Over the following years such things as registering voters, major tree planting, healthy environments for children were done. Earth Day 2006 focused on science and faith and expanded into Europe, with events and speeches held in most of the EU countries. Key events included the ‘Festival on Climate Change’ in Utrecht, the Netherlands, which was focused on how to break away from the oil dependence and this included Earth Day founder Denis Hayes and members of the Dutch and E.U. parliament, local authorities, and media representatives. In the first of two years of Earth Day events in Ukraine, Denis Hayes also attended and spoke at the ‘Chernobyl 20 Remembrance for the Future’ conference in Ukraine. That year also saw events in China organised between Earth Day Network and Global Village Beijing, educating communities about energy savings along with the first-ever coordinated Earth Day events in Moscow, Russia, a scientific panel and a religious response panel on climate change throughout the U.S., and a ‘Conserve Your Energy’ event in Philadelphia. Thousands of Earth Day projects have been held across the globe that ranged from energy efficiency events, protests, letter writing campaigns, civic and environmental education trainings, urban and rural cleanups and water projects with a particular focus on building a broader and more diverse environmental movement.

On Earth Day 2010, its fortieth anniversary, an estimated one billion people around the world took part. This included action on climate change and other environmental issues through climate rallies and by engaging civil leaders in plans to build a greener economy. Through a Global Day of Conversation, more than 200 elected officials in more than 39 countries took part in active dialogues with their constituents about their efforts to create sustainable green economies and reduce their carbon footprints. Students around the world participated in school events, featuring community clean-ups, solar energy systems, school gardens, and environmental curriculum. Earth Day Network announced a partnership with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment’s Avatar Home Tree Initiative to plant one million trees in 15 countries by the end of the year. Also, as part of a nationwide commemoration of the fortieth anniversary in Morocco, the government announced a unique National Charter for the Environment and Sustainable Development, the first commitment of its kind in Africa and the Arab world, which will inform new environmental laws for the country. The Kingdom of Morocco also pledged to plant one million trees. Since then, each Earth Day work has continued. The Earth Day Network completed a project to plant over 1.1 million trees, across the globe more than 100 million ‘Billion Acts of Green’ were registered. In September 2011, at the Clinton Global Initiative, U.S. President Clinton recognised this project as an exemplary approach to addressing global challenges. The goal of Earth Day 2014 was to dramatically personalise the massive challenges surrounding global climate change and weave that into both Earth Day 2014 and the five-year countdown to Earth Day 2020, the 50th anniversary. It was an opportunity to unite people worldwide into a common cause and call for action. Earth Day has in fact become very much a global event recognised my many nations, so it was no accident that in the United Nations, world leaders from 175 nations broke a record when they selected Earth Day 2016 to sign the Paris Agreement, the most significant climate accord in the history of the climate movement. Then in 2020, marches and gatherings were cancelled due to the COVID pandemic but still a three-day livestream event was organised, including speakers from all corners of the environmental movement such as Pope Francis, mayors from around the world, Ministers of the Environment from multiple countries and many more. Earth Day 2020 was a major topic across media platforms, including leading magazines and environmental publications. On January 5, 2020, Earth Day’s 50th anniversary year began with a full page in the Sunday New York Times, referencing a similar black and white advertisement that appeared in the Times 50 years earlier on the first Sunday in 1970. Through social media, Earth Day participants joined digital events and shared their support. Through Instagram, HRH The Prince of Wales reminded followers that nature is vital to human health and wellbeing, saying “For fifty years, since the very first Earth Day, I have dedicated a large part of my life to championing more balanced sustainable approaches whether in farming, forestry, fisheries, urban planning or corporate social responsibility. But as we look to shape the next fifty years, I very much need your help. To reflect and inspire the world to action, while aiming for a green recovery, I would ask you to join me by sharing your vision for a more sustainable future (socially, environmentally and economically) using the hashtag ReimagineReset.”

Sure We Can volunteers clean McKibbin Street, New York for Earth Day 2021.

Earth Day continues around the world, perhaps in ways unnoticed by many. For example there is a service in Brooklyn, New York called ‘Sure We Can’ which provides container-deposit redemption services to that area. Any person can come to Sure We Can during business hours and redeem New York State accepted bottles and cans. Additionally, the organisation serves as a community hub for the canner community that redeems there and for local environmental causes that promote the organisations’ dedication to sustainability. The facility is designed with canners (the people who collect cans and bottles from the streets) in mind. They aim to provide a welcoming facility so people can redeem their cans and bottles. In 2019, the centre annually processed 10 million cans and bottles for redemption and served a community of over 400 canners and Sure We Can estimate that they distribute $700,000 per year to canners. The average canner who visits Sure We Can earns $1,000 per year. Long may such initiatives continue, as large or not so large, they all make a vital difference. The Earth Day 2022 theme is ‘Invest in Our Planet’ and features five primary programmes, these being The Great Global Cleanup, Sustainable Fashion, Climate and Environmental Literacy, Canopy Project, Food and Environment, and the Global Earth Challenge. Earth Day is now observed in 192 countries and it is surely up to us all to do our part in sustaining this Earth.

This week…
Our British Saint’s Days are St David’s Day (March 1st), St Patrick’s Day (March 17th), St George’s Day (April 23rd) and St Andrew’s Day (November 30th). I was born on St. Patrick’s Day but my parents decided to give me the forenames Andrew David. Apparently a friend suggested they ought to include Patrick, but it was realised I’d then need George to complete the set and that was too much!

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