Earth Day 2020 was overshadowed by the Coronavirus pandemic, but it was the 50th anniversary of the first Earth day which was established on April 22, 1970. Now, we are beginning the second half-century of celebrating Earth Day.
Earth Day is a secular celebration and call to action that we, as Catholic Christians in the Franciscan tradition resonate with strongly. Our faith reminds us that “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalms 24) and that God has given human beings a particular responsibility to care for creation (Laudato Si’,. 49, 91).
Our faith calls us not only to support initiatives to support the care of the environment but in fact to take the lead as people who believe in the Creator and who respect God’s creation.
A brief history of Earth Day:
Earth Day was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson and other activists in the 60’s who worried about environmental degradation. Back then, cars ran on leaded gasoline, and had notoriously low gas mileage. Water pollution was rampant; in November 1969, an oil slick in the Cuyahoga river in Cleveland caught fire and burned several nearby boats and buildings, as well as the ship repair yard. By the mid 60’s, only 487 pairs of nesting bald eagles remained in this country, their populations decimated by habitat loss, shooting, and DDT poisoning.
Senator Nelson, with Congressman Pete McCloskey, decided to host nation-wide college teach-ins on April 22, 1970, to raise awareness about the threat of industrial development to people and planet. Their effort caught on, and diverse environmental groups joined forces for the defense of the earth. The country held huge rallies and demonstrations on the first Earth Day; about 20% of the US population at that time took part. That first glorious Earth Day led to a series of groundbreaking legislative victories. By the end of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency had been created and the Clean Air Act passed. Soon after, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other important environmental legislation became law.
Earth Day became a global movement in 1990, and reached 193 countries by 2010. It now includes a focus on climate change and clean energy, supported by the global organization EARTHDAY.ORG. More than a billion people take part each year, making it the largest secular celebration on earth.
How you can get involved outside of St. Francis
This year, the global pandemic limits large rallies and demonstrations, but we are connecting via the Internet and social media, as well as smaller outdoor events. EARTHDAY.ORG will feature three days of online activities from April 20-22, centered around the theme of “Restore the Earth,” and exploring topics like regenerative agriculture, reforestation and environmental justice. Learn more at earthday.org/earth-day-2021. Use toolkits from EARTHDAY.ORG to expand your knowledge of environmental issues like climate literacy, biodiversity loss, environmental justice, and agriculture and deforestation at earthday.org/teach-in- toolkit.
Local opportunities can be found here: https://www.eventbrite.com/d/ny–new-york/earth-day-events/
Continue to celebrate Earth Day throughout the year with these sustainable practices. Take the foodprint quiz at foodprint.org to see how your food habits impact the environment, people, and animals. Learn about alternate energy suppliers, and make the switch from conventional fossil fuel to wind or solar. Next time you trade in your car, look at hybrid or electric vehicles. Plant a native tree; native trees capture carbon, provide shade, and create habitat for birds and other wildlife. Donate to the environmental organization of your choice. Get informed about environmental issues and advocate for them at the local and national level.
Earth Day shows people can bring about change in the face of huge problems. Our planet is our one and only common home, our life-giving spaceship in the vastness of the universe. Earth Day reminds us that we must take care of Earth’s air, water, and diverse plants and animals as if our lives depended on it; in truth, our welfare is deeply intertwined with the welfare of the planet.