When Earth Day was created in 1970, it was considered to be the birth of the modern environmental movement. April 22 of each year, and often the entire week, is devoted to celebrating environmental service and advocacy. University functions, citywide festivals, tree planting and beach cleaning events, and even concerts celebrate a consciousness to preserve the natural Earth. The primary purpose of Earth Day is to heighten awareness of environmental issues and provide a platform for emerging solutions. Just as the first Earth Day in 1970 was concerned with oil spills, this year’s Earth Week marked the one-year anniversary of the tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that continues to strain much of the Gulf South economically, socially, and most of all, environmentally.
This year’s theme is “A Billion Acts of Green,” was celebrated in different ways around the world. In the U.S., Green livelihood and green energy campaigns are emerging, along with encouraging responsible forestry, maintenance of water resources, and rural infrastructure. Last year, local NGOs and local government officials coordinated city and village clean-ups and environmental rallies and educational programs.
Taiwan is planting a tree for every 10 residents of the island, totaling a whopping 2.3 million trees. The Vice Secretary-General hopes to contribute as many Acts of Green as possible through new initiatives in water issues, recycling, conservation, consumption, and traffic.
Costa Rica has also turned its attention to tree planting in order to reverse deforestation and offset carbon emissions. To promote tropical forest growth, volunteers have organized tree planting for Earth Day with the mission of creating global awareness and action to protect tropical rainforests. Etnies, a U.S. shoe manufacturer, become involved and is planting 35,000 trees to help reforest the Maleku reserve in Costa Rica. The hope is the tree plantings will help reverse land erosion, and potentially create a carbon-offset program to fund community development.
Mainstream America was neither knowledgeable of nor concerned with environmental issues until the publication of Rachel Carson’s jarring book, Silent Spring, in 1962 caught the attention of the nation. The book precipitated the beginning of the modern environmental movement; it sold more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries and raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment, and public health.
Several years later, Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a Wisconsin Senator, was moved to action after witnessing the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. His goal was to put environmental protection on the national political agenda. On April 22 of that year, he presented the idea of a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media. As a result, groups that had been fighting for diverse causes like factory and power plant pollution and the extinction of wildlife came together over shared common values.
In 1990, Earth Day became a global event and gave a boost to recycling programs worldwide. Today, the Global Advisory Committee for the Earth Day Network includes delegates from the United States, Morocco, Brazil, England, and Costa Rica. Americans on the U.S. delegation include professional athletes, actors, and presidents of non-profits.
As climate change continues to accelerate, straining ecosystems worldwide, Earth Day will continue to bring revelation and recognition of our common problems, and common solutions.
Jessica Zaegel is a first year law student at the University of Denver.