By the late 1960s, most humans realized we needed to become better stewards of our planet. A few major incidents helped spur the epiphany.
Woman Crush Wednesday honoree Rachel Carson penned Silent Spring in 1962, alerting the world to the unintended dangers of harsh chemicals. In 1968, the Apollo Program provided a new perspective of Earth. Astronaut Bill Anders snapped a photograph from lunar orbit, called Earthrise. The image seemed to awaken the notion in humans that our blue marble is singular, fragile, and breathtaking. Yet, on the ground, the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969. A conflagration in a body of water. The same year, a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, consumed 800 square miles of ocean.
Against this backdrop, John McConnell attended a UNESCO Conference, where he suggested a holiday to honor Earth and the idea of peace. McConnell proposed 21 March 1970 for the celebration, as that date marked the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and the autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere. Senator Gaylord Nelson thought this occasion suited a nationwide environmental “teach-in.” He tasked Denis Hayes with organizing the series. Along with legendary advertisement guru Julien Koenig, the group settled upon calling the upcoming 1970 experience “Earth Day.”
Over half a century later, Earth Day is now an annual tradition, as we learn to take care of the home of our children, grandchildren, and future descendants.
If you’re reading this article on Earth Day, you might have noticed the holiday does not transpire on March 21, as intended by John McConnell.
Instead, we mark the happening each year on April 22.
The reasoning grew out of the need to start a movement from nothing. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a large focus of the “teach-in” fell on university students. A late week in April held several advantages over the equinox period. Late April tends to avoid spring breaks and exams. It also avoided conflicts with Easter and Passover. Perhaps most importantly, though, a month makes a big difference in the weather.
If part of the goal is to plant trees, clean up trash, and work on the environment, that month of warmer temperatures can make a big difference.
Plus, April 21 is the birthday of John Muir, who always seems to pop up in our explorations. Slotting Earth Day one revolution behind his anniversary offers some wonderful harmonic convergence. They settled on 22 April.
Early Earth Days focused on activism and education, as was the mode of the day.
Since then, the holiday morphed into a general day of reflection and stewardship. Across the globe, humans volunteer to clean up and make things a bit bluer and greener.
Critically, the early organizers resisted the idea of copyrighting or monopolizing the notion of Earth Day. They could easily have used the brand to profit individually but decided to let the idea grow organically. Today, Earthday.org coordinates festivities and events worldwide, but localities have full autonomy to utilize the holiday to their needs.
2022’s official Earth Day theme is “Invest in Our Planet.”
After all, what better notion is there than investing in our home?
If you’re reading this on Earth Day, step outside to appreciate the sky and the plants and the water. Pick up some trash. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Help a tree to grow. Do your part to keep this glorious world glorious.
Then again, if you’re not reading this article on Earth Day, do all of the above anyway!