It’s been 39 years since the first Earth Day, and National Geographic news has a great slideshow of photographs and stories from it’s not-so-humble beginnings. But what’s interesting is how the day has changed over time. Elizabeth Kolbert reports in the New Yorker this week that the first Earth Day was a “raucously exuberant affair…”
In New York, Fifth Avenue was closed to traffic. People picnicked on the sidewalk; dead fish were dragged through midtown; and Governor Nelson Rockefeller rode a bicycle across Prospect Park. Students in Richmond, Virginia, handed out bags of dirt (to represent the “good earth”); demonstrators in Washington poured oil onto the sidewalk in front of the Interior Department (to protest recent oil spills); and in Bloomington, Indiana, women dressed as witches threw birth-control pills into the crowd (no one was quite sure why). All told, some twenty million Americans took part…”
Today Earth Day seems a bit tame in comparison. Yes, there are concerts and other events, but in many ways the day seems akin to Arbor Day in our minds – a nice thing to recognize – but unless you’re physically planting a tree it’s more a manifestation of good feelings than a call to action. And indeed, there are numbers to prove that effect: In a recent Gallup poll asking Americans whether “protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth,” only forty-two percent said yes. And in a poll from the Pew Research Center that asked Americans about their priorities for Congress and the new president, “dealing with global warming” ranked at the bottom of the list.
So what can you do to raise awareness and share information about protecting our environment? We’ve got some suggestions here at NG. We’re currently running a contest called GreenEffect, which will award $20,000 to the five people or groups whose green ideas will help bring about change. Our Green Guide offers tips for everyday trimming of your consumption and energy use. Our mission is “to inspire people to care about the planet” and we’re working every day to achieve that end. So read, donate, or share what we’re doing here with others, and you can help make a difference.
Photograph from AP