Celebrating Earth Day’s 50th must mark a New Beginning for the Next 50
April 22nd, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the original Earth Day. While Earth Day is not technically a national holiday, many people in power recognize the occasion, and its momentum over the past half-century has evoked real environmental change.
Earth Day was first conceptualized in late 1969, when U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson hired Harvard grad student Denis Hayes to organize the inaugural event for the following spring. At first, the senator and student imagined the day as a nationwide teach-in to celebrate the natural world, educate about the environment, and push for activism.
According to Hayes in a recent New York Times article reflecting on the 1970 event, the first Earth Day “was not an anti-litter campaign… it was talking about fundamental changes in the nature of the American economy.” The occasion drew over 20 million people to rally in city streets across the country.
The event was a serious push for dire political and economic transformation that eventually proved immensely effective. In the months following Earth Day, President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and progressive amendments were added to the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. It also launched America’s environmental movement into full throttle.
Taking Action and Raising Awareness is Still the Most important Focus for Earth Day
Earth Day’s original incarnation occurred during a far from tranquil period in American history. The Vietnam War was at a tumultuous height, civilian protests were ubiquitous, the Civil Rights movement was ongoing, and the Cold War was far from over. Still, with passion and perseverance, the event turned out being a success and managed to evoke positive change in an unlikely time.
Now, fifty years later, America is on the brink of multiple crisis points at once. Politicians and constituents are ideologically polarized, the 2020 presidential election is starting to boil, and most pressingly, the entire world is working to combat and understand COVID-19.
Just like the first Earth Day, ED-2020 comes at a deeply turbulent time.
Climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss as a result of human activity will not stop in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Neither will the political responses to it—Trump, for example, cut fuel efficiency standards right around the same time that the stateside coronavirus shutdowns began.
Simultaneously, Earth Day 2020 has the potential for inspiring a path toward great opportunities.The recent oil crash signifies the possible end for the hegemonic, dangerous and corrupt fossil fuel industry. Meanwhile, a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency suggests that investing in green energy right now might be the economy’s best chance at recovery from the COVID-19 stock plummets.
The issues may have changed over the past fifty years. The world certainly has. Nevertheless, Earth Day still fights for the same overall goals that it did back in 1970: an environmentally sound and equitable planet for everyone sharing it.
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