The 1960s were an era rife with turmoil. Social issues and political issues boiled out in the streets in the form of protests, and, although industrialization and a booming population were creating new pressures on the environment and health, eco-issues were not necessarily the topic foremost in the media or in Washington, D.C. Some activists who wanted to see that change. U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin was one of those people. He saw how protests and sit-ins had been successfully used to draw attention to other urgent issues, and he wondered if similar rallies could help bring environmental issues to the forefront of policy actions.
Considering events of the previous decade, it seemed that the atmosphere was ripe for a kick-start to the environmental movement. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring turned readers on to the dangers of pesticides such as DDT. A massive oil spill in Santa Barbara slicked and sickened the coast, and in 1969 the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, caught fire due to oil slicks and debris. It was not the first time flames had broken out on the river, but the event received adequate media coverage to set people thinking about the environment and negative consequences of industrialization.
Sen. Nelson, his assistant Dennis Hayes, and other like-minded social leaders created an opportunity for that furor to be displayed in the form of a national holiday. April 22, 1970 became the first official Earth Day. It was a day devoted to voicing concerns about air and water pollution, and the health of the citizens of America. More than 20 million people across the United States flooded streets, parks, and auditoriums to rally for environmental causes. Participants hoped that their local demonstrations would have national impacts.
As the dreamers and activists of the First Earth Day hoped, their protests and parades soon translated into political action. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created and legislative acts were passed, including the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Endangered Species acts. Although the first Earth Day led to some encouraging results, supporters of Earth Day felt that the need for action and activism was far from over. Consequently, rather than dying out, the ideas behind Earth Day spawned new groups in various forms, and Earth Day took on a specific theme each year to help focus actions and proposals.
Today, more than 1 billion people across more than 100 countries celebrate Earth Day, with many projects extending beyond April 22 to encompass an entire Earth Week. The Earth Day Network, which grew out of the first Earth Day, now works with more than 22,000 partners in 192 countries to help mobilize the environmental movement. For 2013, the Network has selected “The Face of Climate Change” as Earth Day’s theme.
The theme plays on the term ‘face,’ indicating that this year’s focus is about what climate change looks like in terms of the people, animals, and landscapes it currently impacts, and ‘face’ in terms of that what people are doing to “face” or deal with climate change. The idea is to give climate change a personal and urgent feel.
Primarily, the story is being told through images, which the Earth Day Network is collecting from contributors across the globe. Participants can submit photos at EarthDay.org/2013.
Submitted photos will be added to a collection on the Earth Day Network’s website, creating a collage that displays all sides of climate change: the people impacted by it, the people who wish to combat it, landscapes and homes destroyed by severe weather, and a myriad of other stories.
The past 43 years have seen changes not only in how environmental concerns are perceived but also in how they are communicated, tracked, and addressed. One thing that has not changed however, is human dependence on a healthy planet, and the choices we make today will certainly impact future generations on each Earth Day to come.
Beyond submitting photos, there are numerous other ways for people to participate in Earth Day 2013. A few websites that list opportunities are available below.
In the U.S.: