This year’s Earth Day 2017 falls on Saturday, April 22, and there are numerous ways you can pitch in to help clean up the planet and preserve it for generations to come. This feature will tell you who founded Earth Day and most importantly, lists some ways that you can get involved with your local community.
In his book, Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” These wise words of advice come from one of the founding figures credited with raising the public’s awareness into what would eventually become the modern environmental movement. Following in the literary footprints of Walden, in June 1962, Rachel Carson authored Silent Spring and discussed the dire environmental consequences that synthetic pesticides, particularly DDT, posed to nature and humankind. This influential book and its warnings were a significant factor in a grassroots movement that led to a heightened awareness of one’s surroundings and a global environmental consciousness. Over time, this increased awareness ushered in a philosophical shift in thinking of the Earth and its resources as something to be utilized and consumed without regard to limit, to a collective attitude of conservation and stewardship of the Earth as something that needed to be protected and persevered for future generations before it was too late.
Who Founded Earth Day?
Since its inception on April 22, 1970, Earth Day has been celebrated as a way to draw attention to the many environmental crises that plague our precious planet. According to the Earth Day Network website, Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, who was a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin at the time, came up with the idea for a national day to focus on the environment after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. He was inspired by the student anti-war movement, because he realized that if he could create that same energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. On the first Earth Day, which took place on April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans gathered on streets and in parks and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment, while thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. By the end of that year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created, as well as the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.
Having grown from humble roots, Earth Day (and in some cases now Earth Month) has flourished into a global concept that is now celebrated in nearly 195 countries worldwide. Because 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, the Earth Day Network is setting a goal to shape the future of 21st century environmentalism and help advance environmental and climate laws and policies and create more green technologies and jobs by Earth Day 2020. To help achieve this goal, this year’s Earth Day theme is “Environmental & Climate Literacy,” which seeks to empower all people with the knowledge and understanding of the importance of preserving and conserving our global environment and to encourage all citizens to take action within their community to protect our collective home.
Earth Day 2017 Tips
The Earth Day Network is encouraging people to do their part to promote environmental and climate literacy by downloading a toolkit to help them organize and coordinate Earth Day events in their local community. If taking part in an organized event is not possible, consider contributing to the movement in other ways, such as:
- Use reusable water bottles instead of disposable plastic water bottles. According to the Earth Day Network, about 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year to make bags, bottles, packages and other commodities for people all over the world, but only about ten percent of this plastic is properly recycled and reused.
- Join a volunteer project or simply enjoy the natural wonders and wildlife preserved in national parks. Some national parks are even hosting Earth Day events, such as the Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado) Earth Day event on April 22 at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. It will include arts and crafts, Earth Day artwork, park greenhouse tours and information on Earth Day topics.
- Plant a tree. According to the nonprofit organization, TreePeople, there are many benefits of planting trees. They help combat climate change, provide oxygen, conserve energy, save water and help prevent water pollution, to name just a few.
- Visit or stay in one of the many eco-friendly resorts located throughout the U.S., such as Inn by the Sea (Cape Elizabeth, Maine), which features indigenous gardens that provide food and habitat for wildlife; all-natural room amenities; an electric vehicle car charging station; and a LEED Silver spa. And, on April 27, the hotel will host a beach cleaning and a lecture on endangered species.
- Join the Meatless Mondays movement: According to the Earth Day Network, the meat industry is responsible for about 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and producing one calorie of meat requires nearly 20 times the amount of energy as one plant calorie. Today, the meat industry emits more than 36 billion tons of greenhouse gases annually.
- Partake in the March for Science, which is scheduled to take place this Saturday, April 22 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The March for Science is a rally and teach-in event with a mission to defend the vital public service role science plays in our communities and our world.
Best Earth Day Events and Festivals
In addition to Washington, D.C., many other cities and towns across America are hosting Earth Day events to help inform and educate attendees on the importance of protecting the environment through fun activities for the whole family to enjoy. Here’s a sampling of some of the events and festivals set to take place in honor of the upcoming Earth Day:
San Diego EarthWorks’s EarthFair: In its 28th year, this annual event takes place on Sunday, April 23, in Balboa Park and will feature more than 300 exhibitors, special themed areas, a food pavilion, a children's activity area, four entertainment venues, a parade, an arts and crafts show and the Cleaner Car Concourse.
Ann Arbor’s 2017 Earth Day Festival: This family-friendly annual celebration, which takes place on Sunday, April 23, features displays from 40 local environmental, nonprofit and governmental organizations; live animal demonstrations; hands-on activities; live entertainment; green building and commuting technologies; and information on water awareness and sustainable agriculture. The festival is also a zero-waste event, which means that visitors can help keep waste from landfills during the event by bringing their own reusable water bottle, and putting waste in the correct receptacles. “Through exhibit booths, hands-on activities and learning presentations, the festival provides opportunities for community members to discover ways they can get involved with and support a healthy planet,” says program manager, MacKenzie Maxwell.
Earth Day in New Orleans City Park: The event, which takes place on Tuesday, April 25, features exhibitors; activities for children; live music; free yoga classes; a native plant sale; cooking demonstrations and delicious food. In addition, attendees can receive guidance and resources on leading a more environmentally responsible lifestyle, including growing food, food preservation, solar energy, natural products, composting or permaculture. “The event is important to help further educate our community on the ways we can be making a positive difference in our environment,” says Amanda Frentz, media manager at New Orleans City Park. “We hope the event will help focus personal responsibility in everyone's daily lives.”
Durham Earth Day Festival (North Carolina): On Sunday, April 23, locals and visitors to Durham can enjoy this festival, which includes activities and demonstrations and a sustainability expo and Earth Day market, which showcases green practices and products. Live music and entertainment will also be on hand at this zero-waste event, which will encourage attendees to properly sort waste into compost, recycling and trash bins.
Earth Day Indiana Festival (Indianapolis, Indiana): This event will be held on Saturday, April 22, at Historic Military Park at White River State Park. Featuring local food vendors, activities for kids, more than 125 exhibitors, live music, a 5K run/walk and a beer garden, this event is a must for visitors of all ages.
Earth Day Texas (Dallas): Earth Day Texas, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization focused on environmental education and awareness, is a three-day free event that brings together environmental organizations, businesses, government agencies and speakers with live music and sustainable beer and food pavilions to create a fun and engaging atmosphere.
John Muir, the environmental philosopher, founder of the Sierra Club and founding father of the U.S national parks, once wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” This simple, yet profound statement, is essentially the whole basis and justification for Earth Day and for why preserving, conserving and protecting one’s own natural environment, while local in nature (pardon the pun), can have a global impact not only today and tomorrow, but for generations to come.
There are so many different ways you can help save the planet. For instance, consider walking instead of driving somewhere, which comes with an added health benefit.