Jahnavi Shah

PhD Student, Planetary Science

50th Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!

In honour of 50th Earth Day, I thought it would be neat to take a quick glance at the history and origin of Earth Day. For that, we travel back to 1962 when Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring was published.

This environmental science book documented environmental effects related to pesticide use. It also called out the industry for its lack of information or rather misinformation to the public. This publication is believed to have ignited public awareness and concern for living organisms, environment, and links between pollution and public health. This was a huge step because at the time America was producing vast amounts of industry waste, inefficient automobiles, and most people were not aware of the environmental concerns or the threats it posed to human health.

Then in 1969, after having witnessed massive oil spills in Santa Barbara, California, Senator Gaylord Nelson worked with Denis Hayes (a young activist) to organize campus teach-ins to raise public awareness about air and water pollution among the students. They recognized that this could be engage more people and thus assembled a national staff to promote the event scheduled for April 22, 1970. This day is recognized as the first Earth Day and the birth of modern environmental movement. It inspired 20 million Americans to participate in the movement. It marked a very significant moment in America as it brought everyone together, regardless of political ideologies, socioeconomic status, or profession. Here are some images from the first Earth Day:

Earth Day became a global campaign in 1990, engaging 200 million people in 141 countries, and boosted recycling efforts. April 22, 2020 marks 50 years of Earth Day and is globally acknowledged as a day of action to change human behaviour and create global, national, and local policy changes. This effort is now more important than ever due to the growing climate change crisis.

In honour of the 50th anniversary, Earth Day Network has launched campaigns focused around Earth Day’s 2020 theme of climate action with an aim shape the future of environmentalism. These include:
-The Great Global Cleanup: remove trash from neighbourhoods, beaches, rivers, lakes, trails, and parks
Earth Challenge 2020: the largest-ever global citizen science initiative designed to help report on the health and wellbeing of the environment
Foodprints for the Future: address environmental impacts with our food system (one of the largest contributors to climate change)
-Artists for the Earth: bring artists together and use art to demonstrate the climate crisis

I think these are good initiatives to increase public awareness and encourage public engagement (at least to some extent). I recognize that sometimes these campaigns/efforts seem large-scale and are not always accessible. However, there are changes you can make on a small scale that can have a large impact, take the footprint initiative, for instance. Food loss (food that spills, spoils or is lost before it reaches the consumer) and food waste (quality food that is not consumed after it reaches retailer or consumer) account for 8.2% of the total human-made greenhouse gas emissions. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of edible food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year, globally. Even by just being mindful and reducing your food waste, you are making a difference.

The citizen science initiative is one that really interests and not just in this Earth Day/climate action context. The concept of citizen science is fascinating and has been effective in many cases, and could have the potential of changing how we do large-scale science. I would like to explore the history and origin of it but that is going to require some research and reading on my part. So stay tuned for a piece on citizen science in the following weeks!

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