Earth Day 2022

Izzy Bull

Izzy Bull

April 22nd celebrates Earth Day and in a rapidly escalating climate crisis it’s more relevant than ever before. This resonates with Grain, as the theme for Earth Day 2022 is Invest in Our Planet, focusing on the role of business worldwide in reaching net zero emissions to stay within a 1.5C increase limit.

How Earth day evolved

The first Earth Day was held on April 22nd, 1970, organised by activist David Hayes. The initial concept sprang from the proposal to hold a day of observance to honour the Earth and international peace on the spring equinox, proposed at the 1969 UNESCO Conference. This then led US senator Gaylord Nelson to propose a national “teach-in” day on the 22nd, which Hayes renamed to “Earth Day” along with an expanded scope to cover the entire US. This encouraged 20 million people to take to the streets of America in the largest one-day protest to date. Hayes took notes from the successful strategies of anti-war campaigners and branched out from university campuses into community organising and environmental education in schools.

Earth Day is a fitting example of how environmental campaigning and workers’ rights go hand-in-hand. The United Auto Workers union was a major financial backer and organiser, and Hayes himself is quoted as saying that “Without the UAW, the first Earth Day would have likely flopped!” As we can see, the concerns of labour and the environment have been entwined from the start.

Sowing the seeds of success

The success of the first Earth Day led to genuine change at the political level in the US. Over the next year Hayes and his staff (under a new organisation called Environmental Action) lobbied against a dozen congressmen linked to the worst polluters, successfully unseating seven of them. The 1970s proved to be a decade of legislative progress, with the passing of several major acts: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Superfund, the Toxics Substances Control Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Furthermore, the toxic chemical DDT was banned, as was leaded gasoline (petrol).

Earth Day International

In 1990, Earth Day went international. Events were held in 141 countries, and Earth Day organisers began to look at the many varied issues facing the communities across the globe. International Earth Days have been focused on areas such as clean drinking water, safe environments for children, and more. The day has become associated with the start of major environmental movements and projects, such as the One Billion Acts of Green promise. More recently, the Paris agreement was signed on Earth Day 2016, possibly the most significant act against climate change undertaken so far. And it has become more than a day, with all of April designated Earth Month.

What is the future for Earth Day?

Earth Day has been muted for the past several years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The majority of events planned for the 50th anniversary in 2020 were cancelled, with online meetings, talks, and celebrations held instead. As the climate crisis intensifies, Earth Day remains a rallying point for necessary action and protest, in whatever form they will take.

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