The Evolution of Earth Day: Why We Celebrate It

Published on April 2nd, 2015 | by Brandon Ramsey in Holidays


This planet that we live is on the only one we’ve got, so like anything we cherish, there’s an inherent need to take care of it. This concept is the basis of all environmental movements, especially Earth Day. The awareness of this holiday has grown exponentially since it’s beginning, but it’s important to understand where it came from and how it started.

Earth_Day_-_Earth_from_Space

By TheOriginalSoni (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Join us as we examine the origins of this iconic holiday, how it’s celebrated, and what the future holds for the movement as a whole. The Earth is our home, so it only makes sense that we should take care of it.

Common Questions Regarding the Holiday

With any major holiday like this one, there are bound to be several questions around the meaning and date of the annual event. Below are some of the most commonly asked questions and answers brought to us from the organization that makes this holiday possible.

  1. What Date is it Held Each Year?

The annual date recognized around the world is April 22nd. In various areas of the world there are often festivals, rallies, and events organized around this date, or throughout the month of April each year. All of these things revolve around the spirit of environmental awareness that the environmental holiday is focused on.

  1. Why do we Need This Holiday?

As the official website states, “Because it works!” People often forget about the world around them when they are stuck in the day-to-day activities of their lives. The existence of a day dedicated to our home planet allows people to be reminded of the need for environmental programs and movements.

A holiday like this one also encourages activism and inspires people around the world to join the cause. According to the official website, this holiday is the largest civic event in the world. It is celebrated each year by people from all walks of life. Each year brings over a billion people together for a single cause: to protect the Earth and its natural wonders.

  1. How do I Join In?

No matter where you live, there are bound to be some sort of activities related to environmental awareness going on throughout the month of April. In many cases the awareness events held are seeking volunteers which is an easy way to join and help the cause. In addition, there are numerous ways to do your own part in protecting and conserving the natural ecosystems of our planet. Here are a few examples of things you can do today:

  • Install solar panels on your home to cut your energy usage and promote clean energy usage.
  • Organize your own event or charitable rally in the month of April.
  • Change your own habits (recycle, pick up trash in your neighborhood, etc.)
  • Send letters expressing your concerns to elected representatives

This holiday is meant to raise awareness, but ultimately it’s supposed to inspire action throughout the year.

  1. What is The EDN?

EDN, or the Earth Day Network was founded by the original organizers of the holiday. It is an organization that is dedicated to promoting year-round environmental actions around the word. It is a platform for activists to connected and interact for the purpose of growing their communities.

The total EDN network spans across 22,000 organizations internationally and exists in 192 countries. The domestic arm of the program assists over 30,000 educators and teachers. Numerous activities are coordinated throughout the year around community development and environmental protection.

The History and Observance of Earth Day

The concept for a day that promotes awareness of Earth’s environment first emerged at a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) conference in 1969. The purpose of this organization and the conferences it holds is outlined as:

“To contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.”

What better a platform to launch the concept of this worldwide holiday. In 1969 during the San Francisco conference, a peace activist by the name of John McConnell proposed a day to honor both the Earth, and the concept of peace. He proposed that it be celebrated on March 21st, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. This concept was included in a Proclamation written by McConnell and it was signed by the Secretary General U Thant at the United nations.

A month later, a similar holiday was created by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson. This concept was an environmental teach-in that was first held on April 22nd, 1970. Nelson’s efforts earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award. This date was originally exclusively recognized by the United States.

An official organization surrounding the holiday and its environmental awareness was founded by Denis Hayes in 1970. Hayes was the original national coordinator and in 1990 he spread the event to an international level. With organized events in 141 different countries, it was a big step forward, and it led to many countries celebrating Earth Week as an extended form of the holiday.

Earth_day_graphic

Not just a single day each year.

The first iteration of the holiday in 1970 was massively successful. There were people participating and celebrating in over ten thousand primary and secondary schools, plus hundreds of smaller communities across the United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it “brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform.”

From this impressive beginning, Denis Hayes and his nonprofit EDN has brought this holiday to impressive heights. According to him the holiday is now “the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year.”

Observances of the holiday have evolved and grown in recent years. What was once a day of awareness has become a worldwide phenomenon that is backed by countless organizations and supporters each year. The goal of these environmental groups is to continue pushing this holiday towards a day that “changes human behavior and provokes policy changes.”

From The First Celebrations to Today

In preparation for the first celebration, a group of students came to Columbia University in the winter of 1969 to hear Denis Hayes talk about his plans for the upcoming teach-in. Some notable people were present including Fred kent, Pete Grannis, and Kristen and William Hubbard. They all agreed to help organize the event in New York City as part of the movement.

Fred Kent spearheaded the efforts to rent and office for them in the city and recruit volunteers. Success came in the form of support from the city’s mayor. Kristin Hubbard remarked “The big break came when Mayor Lindsay agreed to shut down Fifth Avenue for the event. A giant cheer went up in the office on that day.” The agreed street was shut down and central park was opened for the event which brought in more than one million people.

This was a huge step for the organization and the movement. Another event held in Philadelphia in 1970 also attracted a large following and some notable public figures including a Nobel prize-winning Harvard Biochemist by the name of George Wald. Many photos and videos of these events are still available online for the public to view.

The 1990 events marked the twentieth anniversary of the holiday and brought over 200 million people and 141 countries into the fold. The events surrounding this milestone bolstered the awareness of recycling around the world. This celebration was larger due to an increased focus on television, radio, and multimedia marketing tools.

One of the major events that day in 1990 was a live satellite phone call with members of the history Earth Day 20 International Peace Climb. The event was held in George, Washington near the Columbia river as the climbers called from a base camp on Mount Everest. They spoke of their support for world peace and a focus on environmental issues.

This climb was significant because of the effort that went into organizing it by Jim Whittaker. As the first American to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest, he organized the peace climb in 1990 which marked the first time that mountaineers from the United States, Soviet Union, and China worked together to climb one of the largest mountains in the world.

During the climb, they also collected over two tons of trash, which was transported back down the mountain for proper disposal by support teams. More recent events have brought contemporary issues to the table such as global warming and clean energy pursuits.

An Example of an Anthem Inspired by the Holiday

While there are plenty of copyrighted songs by modern day musicians that are performed on this holiday, one particular set of lyrics written by poet-diplomat Abhay Kumar is recognized by UNESCO as a “creative and inspiring thought that would contribute to bringing the world together.”

Entitled “Earth Anthem” the lyrics have been translated into over eight different languages, including the entirety of the United Nations official languages. They lyrics are displayed below to remind us all why this holiday is so very important:

Our cosmic oasis, cosmic blue pearl

the most beautiful planet in the universe

all the continents and the oceans of the world

united we stand as flora and fauna

united we stand as species of one earth

black, brown, white, different colours

we are humans, the earth is our home.

 

Our cosmic oasis, cosmic blue pearl

the most beautiful planet in the universe

all the people and the nations of the world

all for one and one for all

united we unfurl the blue marble flag

black, brown, white, different colours

we are humans, the earth is our home.

 

– “Earth Anthem” by Abhay K

(Under CC by ND-NC) Download link.



About the Author
Brandon Ramsey

Brandon Ramsey is the head author and editor of The Time Now Blog. Be sure to follow us via social media!


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