50 Years of Climate Activism – Earth Day 2020


April, 2020

By Jan-Niclas Schindzielorz

Today is Earth Day.

I won’t blame you if you didn’t know that.

It’s only been around for 50 years.

Earth Day was introduced in 1970 by the US-American senator Gaylord Nelson, after an oil spill in Santa Barbara shone new light on humanity’s impact on the environment and the effects of people’s actions. Since then, the 22nd of April serves as an annual date for environmentalists all around the globe to celebrate our planet and fight for environmental protection.

This year, we get to be part of its 50th anniversary.

To me, it’s like Valentine’s Day. The love we feel for our partners and families should be celebrated every day. Sometimes, people just need a friendly reminder to do so.

Same counts for Earth Day. Our planet shouldn’t be the focus of our actions and conversations only once a year. Every day is Earth Day. And every day is an opportunity to show our commitment to the earth.

But I also believe that it’s important to have this special celebration, to really put aside all the other things going on and focus on the conservation of our planet. For half a century it has been a feature in the environmental calendar and a catalyst for environmental action.

The History of Earth Day.

The 1960s was a wake-up call for environmental action. People started recognizing the effects of human activities on the environment.

There were two main instigators of Earth Day.

Firstly, the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, a scientific publication on the consequences of using pesticides in agriculture and the fragile balance of nature, in 1962. It caused an uproar in the chemical industry and inspired environmental policies, like the ban of DDT, later on.

And then towards the end of the decade, in 1969, an oil spill in Santa Barbara fueled the environmental movement even further. It had severe effects on local marine life and spurred on activists to fight for the conservation of our planet.

Senator Gaylord Nelson was worried that conversations about the future of our planet were missing from the political agenda. Looking at the young generation’s work in the anti-war movement, he wanted to mobilize the same energy to raise public awareness for issues like air and water pollution and thus force politics to act on them.

What he managed to do remains a memorable moment in the history of environmental activism. Thanks to the young Denis Hayes, functioning as his national coordinator, his campaign mobilized 20 million Americans.  Their protests spread the word of the first-ever Earth Day all across the country, and later the globe.

Across all generations, political parties, and social classes this cause made people wake up. This rare showing of union and connection remains one of the greatest achievements in the event’s history.

But it has done more than “just” bringing people together. The movement has been a catalyst for some of the greatest political and social environmental achievements.

Looking back at what Earth Day accomplished

  • 1970: The United States established its Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act shortly after.
  • 1990: The movement mobilized 200 million people all across the globe and took place in over 140 countries. It boosted recycling efforts worldwide and surely was helpful in making the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro happen.
  • 2000: Denis Hayes returned as head of another global campaign, with 5,000 groups in 184 countries participating.
  • 2010: 75,000 partners in 192 countries were involved and the Earth Day Network launched ‘A Billion Acts of Green’ and the roots of ‘The Canopy Project’.
  • 2016: The United Nation chose that year’s Earth Day to sign the Paris Agreement.

What celebrating Earth Day today means

I am proud of the history of Earth Day and all it has achieved, but I am also acutely aware that ‘this’ Earth Day we are facing unprecedented challenges.

During a time when our safety and security are being threatened on such a grand scale – it is hard to focus on challenges awaiting us in the future.

It is essential that we work together, keep the global conversation going and act to save our planet.

You (activists and environmentalists across the world) mean the world to us. And your actions mean everything to the world.

Together, we can make every day Earth Day!

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