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Earth Day: Still Valuable In 2011?

Earth Day 2011 – a billion acts of green

Earth Day 2011 is on April 22, which is this coming Friday as I write this. The annual event is meant to inspire an awareness and appreciation of the natural environment. It was founded in the U.S. but has grown over the years to become a global Earth Day Network.

The First Earth Day

The very first Earth Day was held way back in 1970, on April 22. In the founding year, around 20 million people participated. The original Earth Day was organized in the hope of demonstrating decentralized, grassroots popular political support for an environmental political agenda. It was modeled on earlier Vietnam War “teach-ins”.

The U.S. Senator central to the organization of the first Earth Day, Senator Nelson, apparently thought of the concept following the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969, which was the largest oil spill in U.S waters at the time. Oh how times have changed in that regard! Nelson proposed a national environmental “teach-in” on every university campus in the country. It was hoped that millions would participate.

Senator Nelson hoped that a grassroots show of support for environmental issues would  prove to Washington, D.C. just how concerned people from all over the country were about the state of the environment. Nelson has said that he thought Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment, and many groups working on different environmental issues shared the day.

Funnily enough, I just wrote a post this morning about a fresh call for mass non-violent civil disobedience in the fight to urgently address climate change, by Bill McKibben, who wrote the first book on climate change 22 years ago (The End of Nature). He’s also co-founder of the relatively new environmental organization 350.org. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that McKibben made this speech in these days leading up to Earth Day 2011.

Earth Day 2011

According to the Earth Day Network website, the network now works with over 22,000 partners in 192 countries, in an attempt to continue to broaden and diversify the environmental movement. The site states that more than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year.

The Earth Day Network programs focus on such activities as greening schools and promoting environmental education, and accelerating the global green economy. To “catalyze global environmental activism”, for Earth Day 2011 the Network has chosen the theme of A Billion Acts of Green. The goal of this project is to register one billion actions before the global Earth Summit in Rio in 2012.

I noticed today that Facebook has collaborated with the Earth Day Network to create a Billion Acts of Green app, so people can pledge their acts of green on Facebook and encourage friends to do so. I’ve also noticed that the post by Facebook about the collaboration has been met with a barrage of Greenpeace supporters criticizing Facebook (the company) for not yet “unfriending coal” and pledging to make the switch to use clean energy.

In recent years some criticism of Earth Day has centered around claims of greenwashing by some of the companies and products involved in promoting Earth Day, and that Earth Day has outlived its usefulness to the environmental movement.

Do you think Earth Day is still a valuable celebration in 2011?

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