By Don MacGillivray

Earth Day is now a major worldwide event that will be celebrated by over one billion people in at least 193 countries making it the largest secular civic event in the world.

The United Nations renamed Earth Day, “International Mother Earth Day,” in 2009 and its flag is the “blue ball” of earth as it appeared when photographed from space.

The Earth Day Network collaborates with 17,000 partners and organizations worldwide and is officially on Wednesday, April 22 but with events extending to the weekends before and after. The theme for this year’s celebration is Climate Action.

Perhaps the largest and most ambitious effort for this year’s Earth Day is with a group called US Climate Strike. The group is part of a worldwide movement that is directed toward Generation Z and inspired by the environmental spokesperson, Greta Thunberg.

A few of the supporting youth activist organizations include Sunrise Movement, Future Coalition, Earth Uprising and Earth Guardians. Establishment supporters include 350.org, Interfaith Power & Light, Sierra Club, SEIU and the Center for Popular Democracy as well as other organizations and education institutions.

The current situation with the earth’s changing climate is stimulating a broad range of participation and involvement.

It was hoped that a very large, dramatic and vigorous Earth Day effort would materialize similar to that of first Earth Day 50 years ago. Unfortunately, it seems that the COVID-19 pandemic will make this difficult.

However, today there is social media, improved technology, journalism and computers that can be utilized to inform and help everyone to actively participate in Earth Day’s jubilee from wherever they are.

Creation Justice Ministries, begun by The National Council of the Churches USA, is organizing under Earth Day 2020 with a theme titled, The Fierce Urgency of Now.

It provides stories of congregations participating in climate action, liturgical resources and faith-rooted interpretations of recently released reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They foster eco-justice transformations that respond to Christ’s call to help our communities to protect, restore and share God’s creation for the benefit of mankind.

In 1970 the first Earth Day was celebrated by 20 million Americans (10 percent of the US population then) with massive coast-to-coast rallies that brought awareness to making a more healthful, sustainable environment. Thousands were organized at colleges and universities to protest the causes of the deteriorating environment.

Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political realignment with people participating from all walks of life.

A few of the most important accomplishments of the first Earth Day were the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substances Act, the Surface Mining Reclamation Act and more.

The idea of Earth Day began with John McConnell, a minister and peace activist from San Francisco and Senator Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin Democrat and early environmental leader.

Earth Day was announced in the fall of 1969 with a proclamation at the San Francisco UNESCO Conference where it was signed by 36 world leaders.

The idea had its beginnings in the turbulence and advocacy of the 1960s, because it had become so obvious that the condition of the earth was being ignored, exploited and damaged.

Up until 1970, the government had not seriously considered the environment important enough to protect. Senator Gaylord Nelson had been thinking along these lines for years and he worked towards the popularization of environmentalism.

The idea of Earth Day drew a spontaneous response with many grassroots communities and environmental organizations. It almost organized itself with immediate help from many resources, both public and private.

The student president at Stanford University, Dennis Hayes, became Earth Day’s national coordinator who organized students all across the county. Major rallies and marches were held in many American cities including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Leaders and celebrities informed the public and provided entertainment to bring attention the world’s worsening environmental situation.

The purposes of the commemoration were many, but most importantly it was about raising public awareness and bringing environmental causes into the national spotlight. These included industrial pollution, the misuse of pesticides and chemicals, gas-guzzling cars and an interest in protecting the planet’s natural resources and millions of biological species from extinction.

Earth Day became a large scale, grassroots environmental movement to shake up the political establishment with a global holiday and celebration.

Before these latest pandemic developments, there were many Earth Day events planned for this year sponsored by churches, schools, agencies, businesses and social organizations. Portland State University, SOLVE Oregon, Washington Park, the Forest Park Conservancy and Tryon Creek State Natural Area are just a few and some of them will likely take place online now.

Reducing the carbon content of the atmosphere warming the oceans, is a priority as this in turn, melts the polar ice caps, thereby raising sea level and potentially flooding one third of the coastal ports and population centers of the earth.

There are reasonable ways to control carbon emissions being promoted by the Climate Leadership Council, but political leaders will need to act.

It is hoped that Earth Day 2020 will do for our generation what the first Earth Day did for our its founders a half century ago.

Image courtesy of Earth Day Oregon