The 50th anniversary has evolved into the first Digital Earth Day with over 3 billion people confined to their homes. The unprecedented global lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic is the largest ever experiment in human history. Ironically, this forced cessation of human activities has done what 50 years of environmental activism could not. The earth has started to heal.
On 22 April 1970, 20 million people, which was about 10% of the entire population of the United States of America at the time, marched out in streets and college campuses to demand environmental awareness and action. Although the birth of the environmental movement is credited to that historic day, the seeds were sown with the publication of the seminal book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1962.
It was the massive oil spill of 1969 in Santa Barbara, California, that provoked Senator Gaylord Nelson, and the Earth Day founder, inspired by the anti-war movement, decided to energize the American people about environmental pollution and public health.
Back in 1970, the public marched for a unified response to an environment in crisis, with oil spills, smog and polluted rivers as the most pressing issues of the time. The first Earth Day led to the passage of landmark environmental laws in the United States, including the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. Many countries soon adopted similar laws, and in 2016, the United Nations chose Earth Day as the day to sign the Paris Climate Agreement into force.
In the present context, climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the selected theme for Earth Day 2020 is ‘Climate action’. The enormous challenge, as well as the vast opportunities for changing the course of human history, makes climate action the crucial topic for the 50th anniversary observance.
Earth Day Network, which coordinates the observance of Earth Day around the world, has formulated a digital-first strategy to leverage the global power of the most innovative digital media platforms to mobilize millions in a collective call for transformative action for our planet. Other events happening today include virtual protests, social media campaigns, webinars, etc.
“At Earth Day Network, the health and safety of volunteers and participants in Earth Day events is our top concern. Amid the recent outbreak, we encourage people to rise up but to do so safely and responsibly — in many cases, that means using our voices to drive action online rather than in person,” said Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network, in a press release last month.
The goal of Earth Day remains unchanged and it is to unite hundreds of millions of people around the world to pressurize world leaders to act on environmental degradation and climate change. The coordination of online activities will deliver an Earth Day unlike any other in the 50 years since it started.
One of the considerations for the theme ‘Climate action’ was that at the end of 2020, nations are expected to increase their national commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement. This is the time for all of humanity to unite for greater global ambition to tackle the global climate and ecological crisis. Unless every country in the world steps up with urgency and ambition to drastically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, future generations face a dangerous and uncertain future
The world has changed a lot since 1970, yet there is so much similarity in the social and cultural environments. A generation of young people are frustrated with the lack of action on the climate crisis and the perceived failure of leadership. Before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted normal life, millions of youth were marching on the streets every month. Digital and social media are bringing these conversations, protests, strikes and mobilizations to a global audience.
The first ever Digital Earth Day will therefore be another epochal coming together of environmental forces. Millions of quarantined humans will seize this historic opportunity to collectively demand action on the climate crisis. World leaders must listen to this clarion call for decisive ‘climate action’ and ensure a zero-carbon future for the safety and security of mankind on planet earth.