On April 22, 1970, the modern environmental movement was formed. The founder of Earth Day, then Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin, was inspired to gather Americans for a national teach-in after witnessing the devastation that human activity was causing to the planet. His idea successfully mobilized 20 million Americans who gathered on April 22, 1970, calling for environmental action, and marking the first national Earth Day.
Only months after that first teach-in the United States Environmental Protection Agency was created and the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts had been passed.
Now 50 years later, we cannot take to the streets on Earth Day due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many environmental organizations had been planning huge events for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, so in light of these trying times, they got creative.
These three organizations have made it easy for us to take action from the comforts of our home.
1. Earth Day Network
Earth Day Network is the organization that grew from the first Earth Day. They had been planning events for the 50th anniversary for over two years, but came up with creative solutions to adapt to our new reality. For the month of April leading up to the 22nd, the organization has created a series of daily challenges that people can participate in from their own homes. Tracey Ann Ritchie, director of education at Earth Day Network, explains this is the time to be reflective and think about our individual actions and what we can do to minimize our carbon footprint. Ritchie says, “We want to get people informed, aware, and activated… we need to be taking action on climate change, and there’s things we can do about that individually, organizationally, communitywide, nationwide, and beyond.”
In addition to the daily challenges and to honor the 50th anniversary, on April 22 the Earth Day Network will be hosting an event in partnership with the U.S. Climate Strike Coalition, which will include several calls to action including information about how to advance climate action — the Earth Day Network’s 2020 theme. This non-profit has also created environmental education curricula to provide students, teachers, and parents with tools they can use from home which can be found on their website.
(Editor's note: Planet Forward has worked with Earth Day Network and will be participating in their virtual celebration. Details to come.)
2. Roots & Shoots USA
Roots & Shoots is the youth program of the Jane Goodall Institute, created by Jane Goodall. Based on Goodall’s philosophy that every individual makes a difference, the program’s goal is to empower young people to create positive change in their communities. Roots & Shoots not only provides young people with resources, support, networking and training, but also gives educators the tools they need to empower the next generation of change-makers. Roots & Shoots members are in all 50 U.S. states and over 60 countries worldwide.
This year, Roots & Shoots is doing a virtual Earth Day Challenge running from April 16-22, including daily actions from a carbon emissions quiz to learning about food waste to sharing tasty plant-based recipes. The challenge items are designed to be inclusive and available to all. Ashley Sullivan, Communications and Policy Officer at the Jane Goodall Institute, says about the challenges, “a lot of them are just focused on how you can be sustainable in your everyday actions even from home.”
The grand finale of the challenge is the premiere of “Jane Goodall: The Hope,” a documentary about Goodall’s journey to activism, the positive influence she’s had on people around the world, and the creation of her non-profit organization the Jane Goodall Institute. Gather your family or host a virtual watch party for an Earth Day movie night! It will be shown at 9/8c on Nat Geo and Nat Geo WILD channels, and available on Disney+ beginning Earth Day. You can sign up for the challenge here!
3. U.S. Climate Strike Coalition
The U.S. Climate Strike Coalition, coordinated by the Future Coalition, is made up of both youth and adult environmental organizations across the country, which all work together to organize climate strikes from coast to coast. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, they are organizing an event called “Earth Day Live.” Beginning on April 22, the Coalition will be hosting a three-consecutive-day livestream, which will include educational webinars, musical guests, celebrities such as Joaquin Phoenix, and more.
Katie Eder, Executive Director of the Future Coalition, explains that it’s important to acknowledge how challenging this time is for everyone. The goal of Earth Day Live, she says, is to “provide some hope and inspiration for how we're able to change moving forward.”
Each day of the livestream has its own theme, the first focusing on the youth led climate strike movement, the second on divestment and climate financing, and the third is about empowering voters and encouraging political engagement. Eder explains the youth climate movement can bring “a vision for what the future can be if we can come together and use this time as the wake up call we need to take action on climate and to protect our future.” You can RSVP to the livestream here.
There is no lack of fun activities leading up to the 50th Earth Day, so consider tuning in to one or more of these organizations events. In 2020, we face uncertainty as important environmental legislation passed shortly after the first Earth Day is being weakened. Let us be inspired by the success of the first Earth Day, and continue the momentum of the environmental movement to protect and strengthen environmental regulations moving forward.