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Happy Earth Day

Here are some tidbits for your Earth Day celebration:

Did you know that there are actually two Earth Days?
The first Earth Day was originally observed on the vernal equinox of 1970 (March 21st). A year earlier, John McConnell proposed the idea of a global celebration for the Earth at a UNESCO Conference on the Environment.

McConnell chose the vernal (northern) or autumnal (southern) equinox to help signify renewal and balance; the equilibrium between day and night signifying the need for people to lay aside differences to consider the shared responsibility to preserve the Earth’s resources.

In February of 1971, United Nations Secretary-General U Thant made it official, declaring the March equinox as International Earth Day, saying, in part; “May there only be peaceful and cheerful Earth Days to come for our beautiful Spaceship Earth as it continues to spin and circle in the frigid space with its warm and fragile cargo of animate life.

Every year in March the Peace Bell is rung at U.N. headquarters in New York at the precise moment of planetary balance.

But most of us in America celebrate today, April 22nd, as Earth Day. What gives?

The same year as the first International Earth Day, 1970, environmental activist and United States Senator Gaylord Nelson organized a day of environmental education and activism. The event was sponsored by a group called Environmental Teach-In.

For those of us old enough old enough to remember, the late sixties and early seventies was a time that the consequences of widespread environmental pollution – the water, air, and landscape – became clear; giving us the spectre of burning rivers, thick blankets of smog over many cities, and toxic metals and chemicals leaching into drinking water. Forests and wetlands disappeared at an ever increasing rate, making way for lifeless piles of garbage and asphalt. We contend today with global themes of climate, energy, and population. Forty years ago regional air and water pollution were arguably at their worst.

Senator Gaylord’s inspiration was a resounding success. Earth Day celebrations sprang up at colleges, universities, schools, and communities all across the nation. He was able to demonstrate to his fellow politicians the widespread and passionate support for environmental issues and legislation. In its wake Congress passed many important environmental laws including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. From this inspired start the Environmental Protection Agency was also formed.

And thus began Earth Day in America. To this day, April 22nd continues as the day Americans set aside to consider our true place in, and responsibility for, our unique and magnificent planetship; blue, wet, warm(ing), and utterly marvelous.

Whether it is the March International Earth Day or the April American Earth Day that we celebrate, let it be a reminder for us every day we trod this Earth that we must not overextend our welcome. We are but guests, passengers, on a fleck of dust, living within a tenuous biosphere, hurtling through a harsh, cold, disinterested, and unimagionably vast Universe.

We abuse our host to our own peril.

HOIST THE SAILS!

Four billion years ago
Our lonely Earth
Set sail on cosmic seas
Guided by an unseen hand
Of nature, God or chance.

As life evolved
Through endless eco-cycles
Man was born, destined
To destroy or enrich
the Precious Ship.

And now his hand
Has seized the tiller
But his ear has not
Yet caught the Captain’s
Quiet command.

The sails are down, the ship becalmed,
Its fragile life at stake.
No longer do we ride the gentle swells of
Silent seas and breathe
The fragrant air.

Broken are the rhythms
Of our cyclic plants
And other living things.

But now the Captain speaks again
Our quiet thoughts at last reveal his voice.

“Hoist the sails, Earth Man.
Set them for celestial winds.
Hold the tiler firm,
The course ahead is clear.”

Be He nature, God or chance
His voice is heard
And we shall heed
The Captain’s quiet command.

-John McConnell
founder, Earth Day International

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