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Opinion: Is Earth Day Outdated?

Updated: Apr 6, 2019

by Ethan W.

On April 22, 1970, twenty million Americans across the country demonstrated for environmental sustainability in the first ever Earth Day, started by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson. It was the beginning of a sort of holiday which has since been celebrated annually on the same date each year.

Protesters part of the first ever Earth Day, April 22, 1970

Currently organized by the Earth Day Network, a climate activism and leadership organization, Earth Day exists to promote environmentalism with a day of education, protest, and, hopefully, action. However, the once a year nature of Earth Day in contrast to the immediate, sustained, and long-term solutions climate change demands raises concerns about Earth Day’s true impact, it’s current relevance, and its effects on the greater environmentalist movement.

The benefits of even a day focused entirely on climate activism were great at the time when Earth day was founded: the issue of climate change had little national or political attention, so even a day of protest showed progress in the issue’s national relevance. In 1970, Earth Day was able to create and unify the country’s first national green movement and greatly raised popular awareness about climate change. Now, however, a young generation is ever more energized to fight climate change and several credible proposals have been made in government to create further environmental policy. While it still plays an important role and has an impressive global base, overemphasizing Earth Day could limit the scope of real progress.

This is especially true because of the urgency of climate change: leaders at DC’s Youth Climate Strike estimated that we have only eleven years (until 2030) to take extensive action before the effects of climate change will be irreversible. One year has passed since a UN report suggested a twelve year time limit, supporting the young activists’ claim.

The theme of Earth Day 2019, put forward by the Earth Day Network, is entitled “Protect Our Species”, and includes among its goals (according to the Network’s website) “major policy victories” and increased awareness “about the accelerating rate of extinction of millions of species and the causes and consequences of this phenomenon.” Earth Day’s annual themes draw attention to various issues but fail to lead to needed widespread progress simply because of their limited nature.

Earth Day’s once annual movements to address specific environmental issues have existed since 1970, yet so little headway has been made in the general fight against climate change that our efforts to end climate change are now limited to just eleven years. Earth Day should continue to exist, but all of its participants should understand that their actions on April 22 alone cannot and will not end climate change. Daily action and the belief in climate change as an issue worthy of year-round focus like any other will be among the list of what will be needed to fix the problem.

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