What is Earth Day?

Earth Day is an international day that is celebrated on April 22 each year, and has been since 1970. The events planned for the 40th anniversary in 2010 aim to be the most spectacular yet.

Although the event is a global one with events in many different countries, the majority are held in the USA and Earth Day was first inaugurated by an American Senator, Gaylord Nelson. At the time, his idea of creating a better environment for future generations was not a popular one. Most people in the USA had very big cars, enjoyed the benefits of industrialised living and never really spent much time thinking about the natural world and the impact of human activities on the environment.

The First Earth Day

This was more of a success than the organisers had dared to hope, with 20 million people becoming active on 22nd April 1970 and demonstrating against the impact of big business and big industry. The sixties had been an era of protests and demonstrations and it may have been this that initially motivated people to take to the streets and get involved.

However, over the next few years, people started to appreciate the need for action for the environment and Earth Day went from strength to strength.

Earth Day Goes Global

It became a global event 20 years later on Earth Day 1990, when the Earth Day Network founded a new campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of global warming and climate change and to call for fossil fuels to be phased out and alternative, greener sources of energy to take their place.

There was a great increase in activity for Earth Day 2000, by which time 5000 different environmental groups around the world were participating in Earth Day events, which were being held in over 180 countries ranging from Gabon in Africa to Scotland.

Did Earth Day Lose its Way?

In recent years, Earth Day has come in for some fairly serious criticism. The Earth Day Network has continued to work hard but has accepted donations and sponsorship from many of the big companies and big industries that it was initially founded to battle against. This has let some opponents of Earth Day to suggest that the whole event is now no more than a publicity stunt that is being done to make these big and powerful organisations look a lot better.

The organisers refute this quite strenuously, pointing out that, yes, they do accept sponsorship and donations from industry but that this comes ‘with no strings attached’. The contributing organisations have no say in how the money is spent or what it is used for.

New Impetus for 2010

As Earth Day 2010 approaches, the organisers are stepping up the pressure on world governments to end our reliance of fossil fuel systems. This was one of the messages from 40 years ago and we are still not much further on with adopting alternative fuels such as solar power, wind power and hydroelectric power.

One of the most famous world events now associated with Earth Day requires everyone to turn off their lights for an hour at the same time around the world as a protest. This usually takes place in the month before Earth Day.

Another big campaign in 2009 has been to encourage as many people as possible to call the US Congress direct or the national government offices of different countries to object to the continuing inclusion of coal in agreements about power generation. The so called ‘no coal call’ campaign has resulted in jammed switchboards at the US Congress during previous Earth Days, when publicity is at its height.