Saturday, April 21, 2007

Earth Day 101

Earth Day is a name used by two different observances held annually in the (northern) spring, both intended to inspire awareness of and appreciation for the Earth's environment.
"May there only be peaceful and cheerful Earth Days to come for our beautiful Spaceship Earth as it continues to spin and circle in frigid space with its warm and fragile cargo of animate life."
--United Nations Secretary-General U ThantMarch 21, 1971.

The Equinoctial Earth Day
The equinoctial Earth Day is celebrated on the vernal equinox to mark the precise moment that spring begins in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. On equinox, night and day are in equal length anywhere on Earth. Therefore, a perfectly vertical pole standing on the equator at noon during equinox will not cast a shadow. At the South Pole, the sun sets and ends a six-month-long day while at the North Pole, the sun rises and hence ending six months of continuous darkness.
The United Nations marks Earth Day each year on the vernal equinox (around March 21). On February 26, 1971, UN Secretary-General U Thant signed a proclamation to that effect. At the moment of the equinox, it is traditional to observe the day by ringing the Japanese Peace Bell, a bell donated by Japan to the United Nations.The United Nations also works with organizers of the April 22nd global event.
John McConnell first introduced the idea of a global holiday called Earth Day at a UNESCO Conference on the Environment in 1969, the same year that he designed the Earth flag. The first Earth Day proclamation was issued by San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto on March 21, 1970. U Thant supported John McConnell’s global initiative to celebrate this annual spring equinox event. Secretary General Waldheim observed Earth Day with similar ceremonies in 1972. The United Nations Earth Day ceremony continued each year on the day of the March equinox (20th or 21st), with the ringing of the U.N. Peace Bell at the very moment of the equinox.

The April 22 Earth Day

Gaylord Nelson
Responding to wide spread environmental degradation, United States Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin called for an Environmental Teach-in or Earth Day to be held on April 22, 1970. Over 20 million people participated and it is now observed each year by more than 500 million people and national governments in 175 countries. Senator Gaylord Nelson, an environmental activist in the U.S. Senate, took a leading role in organizing the celebration, to demonstrate popular political support for an environmental agenda. He modeled it on the highly effective Vietnam War protests of the time. Senator Nelson selected Denis Hayes (a Harvard student and Stanford graduate) as the National Coordinator of activities. The nationwide event included opposition to the Vietnam War on the agenda. Pete Seeger was a keynote speaker and performer at the event held in Washington DC. Paul Newman and Ali McGraw attended the event held in New York City.
According to Santa Barbara Community Environmental Council:
"The story goes that Earth Day was conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson after a trip he took to Santa Barbara right after that horrific oil spill off our coast in 1969. He was so outraged by what he saw that he went back to Washington and passed a bill designating April 22 as a national day to celebrate the earth."
Senator Nelson stated that Earth Day "worked" because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities participated.
Earth Day proved extremely popular in the United States and around the world. The first Earth Day, in 1970, had participants and celebrants in two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States. More importantly, it "brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform."
Senator Nelson directly credited the first Earth Day with persuading U.S. politicians that environmental legislation had a substantial, lasting constituency. Many important laws were passed by the Congress in the wake of the 1970 Earth Day, including the Clean Air Act, laws to protect drinking water, wild lands and the ocean.
Now observed in 175 countries, and coordinated by the non-profit Earth Day Network,, Earth Day is the largest secular modern-day holiday in the world.

Growing Eco-activism before Earth Day 1970
The 1960s had been a very dynamic period for ecology in the US, in both theory and practice. It was in the mid-1960s that Congress passed the sweeping Wilderness Act, and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas asked, "Who speaks for the trees?" Pre-1960 grassroots activism against DDT in Nassau County, NY, had inspired Rachel Carson to write her shocking bestseller Silent Spring (1962).

The Aftermath of Earth Day 1970
The momentum of all this thought and action helped make Earth Day happen. It is generally accepted that this momentum was increased by the event itself. The first Earth Day is commonly credited with creating environmentalism, and/or giving a tremendous boost to the pre-existing conservation groups and the relatively new and radical grassroots ecology movement, as well as spurring the growth of environmentally sensitive spiritual paths such as Wicca and Neopaganism.
Earth Day's leading organizer Denis Hayes said he wanted Earth Day to "bypass the traditional political process," [1]. However, Earth Day's effect on the political process was immediate and powerful, including the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Earth Day was a resounding success.
Grassroots groups have sought to make Earth Day into a day of action which changes human behavior and provokes policy changes.

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