Celebrated annually on April 22, Earth Day is a holiday meant to raise awareness of environmental issues and inspire support for eco-friendly innovation, policies and lifestyles. From its humble origins as a grassroots organized effort based in the United States, Earth Day has grown into a global phenomenon—involving over one billion people in 192 different countries. In light of the persistent environmental challenges facing the Earth in the present day, active participation in Earth Day continues to be an easy, essential step in the effort to secure a safe and healthy planet for future generations.
Though it is now widely practiced around the globe, Earth Day is actually local in its origins. Disturbed by the massive 1969 oil spill into the Santa Barbara Channel, Senator Gaylord Nelson set out to rally national environmentalist sentiments, which had been burgeoning since the publication of Rachel Carson’s 1962 bestseller, “Silent Spring,” into a concerted political effort. Thanks to the potency of its message, Nelson’s first Earth Day mobilized over 20 million demonstrators and sparked rallies in major metropolitans such as New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles on its debut in 1970. The success of the holiday propelled many concrete advances for the environmental movement in the immediate years following its inception. Within the U.S., Earth Day and the eco-movement it bolstered helped contribute to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency as well as several pieces of environmentally friendly legislation, among them the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Reclamation Act.
As our general idea of environmentalism has evolved as we have become more conscious of the dire extent of humanity’s impact on our environment, so has the issues Earth Day aims to address evolved as well. In becoming a global celebration, the holiday has subsequently become more focused on highlighting broader, world-wide epidemics—particularly climate change and global sustainability. Over the past few decades, these issues have been increasingly pertinent. The tangible consequences of our planet’s warming and our exploiting of its environments are gradually becoming more apparent to hundreds of millions around the globe. Sea level rise has led to occasional flooding in coastal communities while climbing temperatures have sustained decades-long droughts in Sub-Saharan Africa. Simultaneously, mass deforestation in South American and Africa has decimated ecosystems, exacerbated carbon emissions, and polluted surrounding environments.
Earth Day offers us all the opportunity to make our own individual impact on the health of our planet. There are many ways to celebrate the holiday, which tend to vary region by region, so take advantage of the opportunities offered by your community! Generally, local governments and organizations set up community service initiatives that bring people together to plant trees, clean up wildlife areas, or spread information on eco-friendly living. Even the smallest effort, like picking up litter in your neighborhood or taking up composting, makes a difference. Not only does participating in Earth Day help you reduce your carbon footprint, it also sends a message to the government that environmentalism is a priority of its people.
Earth Day’s importance has been continually reaffirmed by the numerous environmental advances that have been made since its inception. Beyond the legislative victories made during the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations, global eco-progress has continued to happen on various fronts. While virtually non-existent 40 years ago, recycling is now a commonplace habit. SO2 emissions have dropped by 40%, acid rain levels in the U.S. have fallen by 65%, and the depletion of the ozone layer has come under control. Though the situation may often seem grim, hope is very much alive among environmentalists—and Earth Day aims to drive it.