On April 22, 1970—the first Earth Day—a project conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson and coordinated by 25-year-old Harvard University student Denis Hayes, sparked a grassroots environmental movement that continues with no loss of passion a half a century later.
Every April 22 citizens of over 190 countries throughout the world now take the opportunity to honor Mother Earth and renew their commitment to the environment. Coincidentally (or conspiratorially?), Earth Day also happens to be the Episcopal feast day of conservationist and Sierra Club founder John Muir, the birthday of Arbor Day founder J. Sterling Morton, and the birthday of communist leader Vladimir Lenin!
The theme for Earth Day 2020 is climate action. The enormous challenge, as well as the vast opportunities, of action on climate change have distinguished this issue as the most pressing topic for the 50th anniversary. Read the Earth Day 2020 user’s guide on How to Act on Climate Change to take your own climate action to the next level. You can also recycle the still-useful 2017 Climate Education Week Toolkit to educate and engage K–12 students on climate change.
The creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which is celebrating its own 50th anniversary this year, was one of the most important outcomes of the first Earth Day. This agency was established by President Richard Nixon and Congress to repair damage done to the environment and to establish guidelines that would ensure clean water, air, and land for America.
These are just a few of the environmental accomplishments that have been achieved since the first Earth Day 50 years ago according to the EPA:
- In 1970, over 40% of the nation’s drinking water systems failed to meet even the most basic health standards. Today, over 92% of community water systems meet all health-based standards all the time.
- Since 1970, implementation of the Clean Air Act and technological advances from American innovators have reduced the six main criteria air pollutants by 73%. The nation has doubled to 86% the number of low-income communities achieving attainment with EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) since 2008. In the past three years alone, 38 areas have moved from nonattainment to attainment.
- EPA’s Superfund and Brownfields programs are bringing opportunity back to communities. Last year, EPA delisted more Superfund sites than any year since 2001.
Learn about other environmental laws and regulations, determine whether you and your business are in compliance, and make comments or suggest changes in the laws.
- Environmental Education Resources: Coloring books, lesson plans, games, and other environmental information and educational resources for distance learning and home schooling.
- Environmental Topics: Read these articles to learn about scientific research and techniques, air and water quality, environmental effects on your health, conditions in your community, and many other topics.
- Greener Living: Tools to help you learn and understand the issues and help you reduce your environmental footprint.
- Labels and Logos: Keep an eye out for these marks to identify products and services that will help you save money, reduce pollution, and protect your family. Also includes logos of programs that teach children how to protect their health and encourage them to become good environmental stewards, and programs that help businesses and communities become more efficient, protect the environment, and save money.
- 30 “Isolutions” for Coronavirus Self-Isolation: A lot has changed in the last month. As over 90 percent of Americans are under shelter-in-place and social distancing mandates in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, people are spending most of their days indoors, trying to keep themselves and others healthy. Here are 30 productive, calming, enjoyable, and often eco-friendly activities—”isolutions,” if you will—to keep your mind sharp, your body active, and your relationships strong.
- Education Resource Library: Browse these resources to guide your environmental education lessons and stewardship activities on Earth Day and throughout the year. These resources can also be adapted in a digital way to be completed from home.
- 2020 Teach-In Toolkit: The teach-in technique was deployed at the first Earth Day in 1970, where concerned citizens gathered across the country to learn about environmental degradation. The activism that followed led to the passing of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, which are considered landmark legislation in environmental protection. Use this toolkit to plan an effective teach-in that will bring your community together and build capacity to make change!
- Earth Day Network: Growing out of the first Earth Day in 1970, Earth Day Network’s mission is to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide by promoting climate action, scientific research and education, development of green communities, conservation and restoration, and reducing plastic and other forms of pollution.
- Earth Day Tips: If you are one of those for whom every day is Earth Day, here are 46 ways you can make a difference every day of the year.
- Take Action: Many ways you can make a difference by educating yourself about the issues and current events, participating in critical data-gathering, adding your support to a cause, organizing an event in your community or online, and sharing information with your social networks.
Here are some opportunities for participating in Earth Day this year. Due to the ongoing worldwide pandemic, most if not all of this year’s in-person Earth Day events have been cancelled. Fortunately, there are many virtual events available, and they not only are accessible within the safety and convenience of your own home, but also are usually free of charge.
- 24 Hours of Action: Through 24 hours of action, Earth Day 2020 will drive actions big and small, give diverse voices a platform, and demand bold action for people and the planet. Join them on April 22 as they issue a new call to action every hour. What can you do today?
- EarthFest: Hosted by the UNT Student Activities Center, University Program Council, and the We Mean Green Fund, EarthFest is a sustainable event celebrating international Earth Day. Share some vegan/vegetarian recipes, identify plant and animal species in your backyard with iNaturalist, color Scrappy and Lucky, and participate in many other virtual resources, activities, and events.
- Earth EXPO: The largest annual environmental exposition and programming initiative in the world, Earth Day EXPO brings together environmental organizations, businesses, academic institutions, government agencies, speakers, interactive programming, and subject matter experts along with live music, art, and food to create a fun and engaging atmosphere for thought and experiential learning. This year’s virtual event is brought to you free of charge by EarthX in partnership with the National Geographic Society.
- Earth Day Live: The world’s largest civic event is going digital for the first time in its history, urging leaders to take science seriously, listen to their people, and push for action at every level of society to stop the rising tide of climate change. Tune in and help flood the world with messages of hope, optimism and—above all—action.
- Sharing Window Artwork: Everyone is invited to participate in promoting public recognition of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by drawing pictures and making signs recognizing Earth Day to hang in the windows of their homes to celebrate with neighbors and their community. If your art skills are limited, you can download a sign to color, or even download a pre-colored sign. Those who wish to share pictures of their artwork are welcome to do so on social media using the hashtag #EarthDayAtHome, #EarthDay2020, and #EPAat50.
See Earth Day 2020 for other events taking place in your area and across the globe, and learn how you can take action as Earth Day goes digital.
Article by Bobby Griffith.