Earth Day


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Earth Day,

Apr. 22, a day to celebrate the environment. The first Earth Day was organized in 1970 to promote the ideas of ecology, encourage respect for life on earth, and highlight growing concern over pollution of the soil, air, and water. Earth Day is now observed in 140 nations with outdoor performances, exhibits, street fairs, and television programs that focus on environmental issues.

Earth Day

Type of Holiday: Promotional
Date of Observation: April 22
Where Celebrated: In countries all over the world
Symbols and Customs: Environmental Activities
Related Holidays: Arbor Day

ORIGINS

Earth Day was first observed on April 22, 1970, at a time when concern for the environment was just emerging as a public issue. More than twenty million Americans took to the streets to demonstrate their concern for the environment, making it the largest demonstration in the nation's history. In Washington DC, more than 200,000 gathered on the Mall in front of the Capitol building to encourage government officials and their fellow citizens to preserve the wilderness and the earth's natural resources. Almost every politician in Washington was involved in the event, although, up to this point, most of them had assumed that environmental issues were relatively low on the average citizen's list of priorities.

The idea of preserving the environment was nothing new. Explorers, writers, and naturalists like John Muir, John J. Audubon, and Henry David Thoreau had already fought to save the American wilderness. Their efforts led to the establishment of the national park system and groups like the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society. But it was Rachel Carson who brought the environmental message home to Americans with her 1962 book, Silent Spring. It warned people about the deadly effects of chemical pollution and led to the passage of federal laws banning DDT and other harmful agricultural chemicals.

It was Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin who came up with the idea for setting aside a day to honor the environment in which we live, and forty-two state legislatures passed Earth Day resolutions. Nelson's original idea was to hold an environmental "teach-in"-a day-long educational event that combined rallies, speeches, lectures, and other programs designed to raise public awareness of the hazards facing the environment. Nelson was also the first Congressman to introduce a bill banning DDT, and he sponsored a number of bills aimed at preserving the Appalachian Trail and other wild and scenic areas in the United States.

Activities that first year varied widely: Some cities lowered bus fares to encourage more people to leave their cars at home, while 200 demonstrators carried coffins into Boston's Logan Airport to protest its noise-polluting plans for expansion. Elsewhere, concerned citizens collected garbage and deposited it on the steps of their local courthouse or statehouse. Mayor John Lindsay of New York led a march that closed down part of the city's Fifth Avenue, one of the busiest commercial streets in the world. Altogether, more than 20 million people in 2,000 communities and on 12,000 high school and college campuses participated in ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVITIES .

April 22 is also ARBOR DAY, which, with its emphasis on planting trees, has been largely replaced by Earth Day. Some people observe Earth Day on the VERNAL EQUINOX .

Although the observation of Earth Day has lost some of its initial excitement, it has become much more widespread over the past thirty years. In 1990, for example, more than 300,000 people gathered at the Capitol in Washington, while 200,000 gathered in Boston, 500,000 in New York City, 100,000 in Chicago, and 50,000 in San Francisco. It was estimated that somewhere around 200 million people in 136 countries celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the event that helped spark the modern environmental movement.

Ten years later, on April 22, 2000, hundreds of millions of people celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of Earth Day, participating in scheduled events in 184 countries. In one of the largest events, held in Washington DC, hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall with politicians, celebrities, and activists to celebrate Earth Day 2000.

In addition to demonstrations, concrete action has been taken in support of Earth Day, including the United Nations' work on the Kyoto Protocol. As part of a global commitment to address the increasing problem of global warming, the U.N. adoped the Kyoto Protocol as an amendment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on December 11, 1997, in Kyoto, Japan. Whereas the UNFCCC, adopted in 1992, encouraged reduction of emissions by developed nations, the Kyoto Protocol required participating nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least five percent (against 1990 levels) by 2012. For the Protocol to become binding, at least fifty-five countries and industrialized nations responsible for fifty-five percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 1990 needed to ratify the agreement.

On February 16, 2005, following the ratification by Russia, the Kyoto Protocol became legally binding for over 141 countries. Developing nations such as China,

Some Prominent Environmental Organizations in the U.S.

Environmental Defense Fund, founded in 1967 to create initiatives to protect the environment www.edf.org

National Wildlife Federation, founded in 1936 to protect wildlife www.nwf.org

Nature Conservancy, founded in 1951 to protect natural resources www.nature.org

Sierra Club, founded in 1892 by John Muir and others to foster appreciation and preservation of the environment www.sierraclub.org Brazil, and India have signed the protocol, but are not legally bound by it. Over 160 nations have committed to the agreement so far. But the largest global polluter, the United States, has not ratified the agreement. Instead, the U.S. has proposed its own climate change initiative, which calls for voluntary reduction in emissions.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Environmental Activities

The most common way to observe Earth Day is by participating in activities designed to preserve the environment and our natural resources. These include collecting garbage for sorting and recycling, avoiding the use of gasoline-powered vehicles, picking up roadside trash, and planting trees. Schoolchildren often pack their lunches in recyclable containers, and families try to give up wasteful habits such as using paper towels and plastic garbage bags. Several major environmental groups have undertaken environmental activities aimed at stopping development, offshore drilling for oil, and the construction of new highways and nuclear power plants.

FURTHER READING

Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Mowrey, Marc, and Tim Redmond. Not in Our Backyard: The People and Events That Shaped America's Modern Environmental Movement. New York: W. Morrow, 1993. Trawicky, Bernard, and Ruth W. Gregory. Anniversaries and Holidays. 5th ed. Chicago: American Library Assocation, 2000.

WEB SITE

Earth Day Network Official Web Site www.earthday.net

Earth Day

April 22
The first Earth Day was observed on April 22, 1970, for the purpose of drawing public attention to the need for cleaning up the earth's air and water and for conserving our natural resources. Since that time the idea has spread, and Earth Day is now observed regularly throughout the United States and in many other countries (though there were some years of slack observance until the late 1980s).
Typical ways of celebrating Earth Day include planting trees, picking up roadside trash, and conducting various programs for recycling and conservation. Schoolchildren may be asked to use only recyclable containers for their snacks and lunches, and environmentally concerned families often try to give up wasteful habits, such as using paper towels or plastic garbage bags.
Earth days have been observed by other groups as well. The day of the Vernal Equinox is also observed by some as Earth Day.
CONTACTS:
Earth Day Network
1616 P St. N.W., Ste. 340
Seattle, WA 98104
202-518-0044; fax: 202-518-8794
www.earthday.net
SOURCES:
AmerBkDays-2000, p. 223
AnnivHol-2000, p. 66
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