The Celebration of Earth Day: Perspectives on an Environmental Movement

Article excerpt

Introduction

On April 22, 2000, half a billion people around the world on five continents will be celebrating the 30th annual Earth Day. The theme proposed by the Earth Day Action Network and its supporters is global warming and the environmental crises caused by the use of fossil fuels.

The day's events will explore the following seven areas of concern:

1. Investment in clean, renewable technologies that are culturally and economically viable.

2. Adoption of higher national standards and programs for energy efficiency to stop the waste of energy.

3. Halting construction of all new nuclear power plants and decommissioning existing ones.

4. Establishing innovative, efficient transportation systems that minimize air pollution and protect human health.

5. Increasing investments in clean energy projects by the World Bank and other publicly supported aid institutions. Rapidly phase out funding for fossil fuel projects.

6. Stop the exploration for and development of new oil, gas, and coal reserves where such projects would harm ecosystems and human communities.

7. Securing national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels at or below those agreed upon in the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. (Earth Day Network 2000)

How Earth Day Began

The establishment of Earth Day began with an idea proposed in October 1969 by John McConnell, a San Francisco resident. McConnell approached the San Francisco Board of Supervisors with a resolution to devote one day a year to public awareness dedicated to nature and the fragile ecosystem that comprises it. The day's events would emphasize the urgency of all inhabitants of the planet to take responsibility for building a healthy and ecologically sustainable planet for the present and long into the future. The board was impressed with McConnell's idea and declared Earth Day an annual celebration to be held on March 21, the date of the vernal equinox. McConnell stated "This is the moment when night and day are equal throughout the earth - reminding us of Earth's beautiful systems of balance which humanity has partially upset and must restore." Earth Day was established as a national day of celebration in the United States in 1970 and was embraced by the United Nations in 1971 when it declared an Earth Day ceremony to be held each year on the day of the March Equinox (McConnell, 2000). In 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson, proposed an Earth Week for the third week in April and together with Bruce Anderson, an architect of solar energy and environmental author, cofounded Earth Day USA (Hayes, 2000). The first national Earth Day was celebrated in the United States on April 22, 1970. Twenty million participants nationwide took part in teach-ins, street demonstrations, and workshops in 2,000 communities and 12,000 college and high school campuses. The major public concern at that time was industrial pollution and its effect on the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the health of the planet we live on. Those celebrations led to overwhelming public outcries for legislation mandating ecologically sound environmental policies and rigid controls on industrial pollution. Over the years, the issues of concern have expanded greatly into all aspects of air, water, soil, and noise pollution. Whether it comes from vehicles, factories, agriculture, housing, or private property, public concern and activism continues unabated with citizens from around the world involved in efforts to achieve a sustainable and enduring ecosystem (Hayes, 2000).

Earth day activities are supported and sponsored by a large network of organizations, government agencies, businesses, universities, and institutions. They work diligently each year to make Earth Day events meaningful and relevant to the inhabitants of Planet Earth. The regular observance of this holiday inculcates environmental values into the national consciousness and provides an opportunity to introduce environmental issues into schools, media and public events (Fried 1998). …