How Effective Is Earth Day?

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This year, as we celebrate the 45th Earth Day on April 22, it is important to evaluate if Earth Day is still relevant.

Earth Day has its roots in the 1960s when activists started creating awareness about the environment. Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring”, released in 1962, was one of the biggest catalyst for the environmental movement. There was a growing frustration among US citizens against government’s complacency towards the environment. Earth Day, however was the brain child of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, whose campaigns for the environment had fallen on deaf ears.

The first Earth Day was to be an environmental protest. Nelson recruited activist Denis Hayes to organize the April 22, 1970 Earth Day. The protest saw great support from across the United States, Nelson records in an essay, “It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air —  and they did so with spectacular exuberance.” The first Earth Day was definitely a success as the protests led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

However, environmental issues today are more complex. Amy Cassara, of the World Resources Institute explains, “As we become more industrialized and our supply chains become less transparent, it can become more difficult to understand the environmental consequences of our actions.” It is for this reason that the Earth Day Network is pushing for Earth Day not to be a marketing event but to bring about policy change and long term commitments. Individuals today use social media to promote Earth Day messages. Susan Rogers of the Earth Day Network says “Planting a tree, morally and poetically, requires taking care of it for a really long time not just sticking it in the ground”

The corporate world has also taken notice of Earth Day and uses this as an opportunity to release their corporate sustainability reports, announce innovative environmental initiatives or fund community projects. However these efforts seem insufficient to the organization Ceres. They have brought together more than a dozen firms and companies to petition the government. The firms include Unilever, PepsiCo, Starbucks, L’Oreal etc. The collective petition Congress to act on climate change with urgency, especially to reduce the carbon emissions by U.S. power plants.

The environmental movement seems very much alive until today.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons