Tomorrow, Thursday 22nd April, we mark ‘Earth Day'.
For years, this day has been accompanied by shows of international action, high profile recognition and has been marked on the calendar of environmental activists and nature enthusiasts alike. But where did it all start? The very first Earth Day happened in 1970 in the US. The idea came from Senator Gaylord Nelson and drew on the energy coalescing around issues such as pollution of the air and water.
By 1990, Earth Day had grown into a global phenomenon underpinned by calls to evolve international, national and local policies in step with growing awareness and outrage with the abuse of the planet. Now, Earth Day is observed by over one billion people every year. Each time the 22nd of April rolls around, the environmental community seems to swell; spaces open up to the kinds of conversations that are often stifled or politely put to one side as if cleanly separable from the issue at hand. 51 years on, those who participated in the very first Earth Day may have hoped that half a century‘s passage could have been enough to transform the kind of action being demanded and, perhaps, Earth Day’s evolution into a moment to reflect on all that has been achieved.
Of course, appreciating the successes of activists and of civic engagement is a huge part of each recent Earth Day. My bigger point here, however, is that the urgency of cries for action has most certainly multiplied. There is certainly a tragedy in the fact that 51 years on, one of the top stories published by the Guardian only yesterday was titled “‘Children are dying unnecessarily’/ reduce air pollution limits in the UK to WHO limits, says coroner”. It is now widely accepted that opportunities to act much earlier on issues from emissions to habitat destruction and a whole host of other exploitative practices were missed. One of the starkest explanations of this that I’ve come across is Nathaniel Rich’s book, ‘Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change’.
Losing Earth is revelatory and heartbreaking in equal measure. I first read the book a number of years ago in the course of a few long train journeys. I can still remember the stillness it made me feel. The book reads like a story, a gripping story I might add, and feels like precisely the kind of narrative that should be a part of every education. Discussing the books and moments that illuminate our understanding of the context of current crises is, I think, something we could all benefit from this Earth Day.
Knowing that the earth and so many livelihoods within it are hurting at the hands of certain human actions, Earth Day may feel like a daunting prospect. Along the same vein, some may be turned off by their perception of regression as opposed to net progress since the very first Earth Day in 1970. The UN’s WMO (World Meteorological Organization) State of the Global Climate 2020 report was recently released, confirming many people’s worst fears when it comes to trends of worsening conditions. The report explores and unpacks how “relentless” climatic conditions worsened last year and how many were “doubly hit” by the added spread of Covid-19.
Doubtless, there is reason to feel frustrated by past inaction, overwhelmed by future predictions or simply exhausted by throwing your efforts into civic action of any kind. That said, by finding reasons to celebrate this Earth Day - for instance, the beauty of connecting with nature in your own ways and the stunning achievements of activists everywhere and against heavy odds - today can be a source of joy and strength.
It is also worth remembering just how much work and engagement simmers away behind the scenes, often eclipsed by news reporting or political priorities, and that the snippets we see with more clarity on days like these are mere windows into the efforts of some truly incredible people. Here at SockStar, we are always lifted by the dedication of wildlife rangers everywhere as they work to defend the earth at the very coalface of conservation efforts.
Harnessing the groundswell of attention that we see today and working to make the earth a priority every day is a prospect worthy of celebration. When more people make moves to inform themselves on the state of the natural world and the social-historical context of that, a spotlight that can be directed onto decision-makers and power holders gets steadily stronger. It’s definitely worth keeping watch on the proceedings of President Biden’s virtual climate summit due to be held this Thursday and Friday (22nd - 23rd April) to which 40 world leaders have been invited.
Against the backdrop of increasingly fragile ecosystems and rapidly vanishing stability in the climate everywhere, let’s take this Earth Day as a point to engage wholeheartedly. Perhaps you can find a space where you feel at one with the natural world somehow and allow it to remind you of the beauty of the earth. Taken as a point to reflect and recharge, Earth Day can be seen as a catalyst for the kind of unity, open-mindedness and dedication that we simply cannot afford to see fade.