Every Day is Earth Day
Not every cause gets its own day. Okay, well maybe they do — after all there is International Bacon Day (celebrated the Saturday prior to Labor Day), National Cheese Fondue Day (this month!) and National Pickle Day (November 14), just to name a few. But none carry the same political and historical heft of Earth Day.
In 1970 the first Earth Day was observed by twenty million people (10% of the US population) with marches, rallies, concerts, and teach-ins designed to speak out against pollution. The most amazing element of the first Earth Day is the truly organic nature of its creation. In the 1960’s, though Gaylord Nelson, a United States Senator at the time, toured the nation speaking out about the state of America’s environment (and convinced President Kennedy to to the same), there was not much of a public nor political movement to change environmental policy or practices. Nelson, who had experienced much success in the way of conservation and resource planning as Wisconsin’s Governor, felt there must be a way to harness American’s increasing awareness and concern for environmental issues and translate it to action. Senator Nelson would later claim the idea for Earth Day simply “popped into my head.” Using the notion of grassroots- or student-led “teach-ins” like those held to protest the war in Vietnam, Nelson formed Environmental Teach-In, Inc. in 1969. With a sparsely staffed headquarters set up in Washington DC, it took a mere six months to recruit and activate local student groups, conservationists, and communities. Though Earth Day headquarters fielded inquires and disseminated information, the day itself was planned and organized locally. Nelson himself stated, “Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor the resources to organize twenty million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.”
Some today, including astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, believe one of the turning points of the environmental movement in the 1970s was the Apollo 8 mission, on which astronauts – and the rest of the world watching from their living rooms – first took a look back at earth from a lofty, cosmic viewpoint. This image of the earth, the “blue marble” with no political borders, with its swirling clouds and deep blue seas “compelled us all to think deeply about our dependence on nature and the fate of our civilization.” Tyson contends this moment of viewing the earth anew, this new understanding of our existence on a planet, helped spur many initiatives, including the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the banning of the pesticide DDT, the passing of the Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts, and the motivation for people to speak out, making Earth Day a meaningful moment in history.
Forty-eight years after Apollo 8, astronauts – and activists alike – still see the earth, as viewed from space, as beautiful and fragile. Here’s their message to world leaders:
To Do This Month:
There’s so much happening this month — not only are birds returning from warmer climes and blooms appearing from the cool, damp ground, but Nature Net sites are bursting with activities and programs.
If you want to celebrate Earth Day on Friday, the 22nd, you can take your toddler to either the Aldo Leopold Nature Center’s Wonder Bugs program or Olbrich Gardens’ Toddler Story & Stroll. There’s also Mad Science at the Madison Children’s Museum and a Full Moon Hike at Bethel Horizons. But don’t stop at just Friday; Earth Day weekend offers celebrations, restoration work parties, guided hikes and Earth Day clean-up challenges, and it’s Earth Month all month long at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center. Check out the Nature Net calendar for a full listing.
National EE Week
National Environmental Education Week (April 17-23, 2016), founded by the National EE Foundation which believes “environmental issues can only be solved if all Americans understand how they play a role in addressing 21st century problems,” is designed to encourage and celebrate environmental learning across the country. Through events and projects led by formal and non-formal educators, National EE Week hopes to engage and inspire people of all ages. To participate, simply register any nature, outdoor, garden, cleanup or environmental project or event you plan to host or participate in. Need inspiration on what to do? Here’s some highlights from 2015s EE Week.
Teachers who register an event receive discounts from organizations like Nature Watch and Acorn Naturalist, as well as eligibility for EE Week grants, free online resources and toolkits, and access to professional development opportunities. (See all benefits here.) Sign up today and start sharing your inspiring projects with the hashtag #EEWeek.
Earth Day Bouquet
Nature Net is proud to showcase events happening at each of our member sites during the weeks leading up to Earth Day. Not only are there a bouquet of events happening each day from now until the end of April, but Nature Net also offers ideas on simple things to do with your children outdoors, nature craft inspirations, and a list of on-going or drop-in events to help motivate or inspire. I just started #MandatoryNatureTime with my own children on Sundays and there’ve been no complaints yet. What will you do? What inspires your family? Let us know on our facebook page.
Here’s a few national programs we love:
- Project BudBurst – where you can record your spring nature observations
- #GimmeFive Challenge – share how you’re getting outdoors and making healthy choices
- National Environmental Education Week (April 17-23, 2016) – as mentioned above – families and community organizations can register, too
And, Nature Net recommends the Tenth Annual Nelson Institute Earth Day Conference for adults on Monday April 25th with keynote speaker, author and science journalist, David Quammen.