By Dr. Kristin Drexler
Faculty Member, School of STEM, American Public University
Happy 50th Earth Day! Earth Day is a holiday that we celebrate each year on April 22.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day back in 1970, which was the “birth of the modern environmental movement” according to EarthDay.org. Earth Day is now known as the largest civic event on Earth.
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The Origins of Earth Day
In the decades leading up to the first Earth Day in 1970, people in the U.S. and around the world were polluting the environment with relatively little regard for future consequences. For example, Earthday.org says that unregulated industrial discharge polluting the air and waterways, inefficient cars using leaded gas, and environment health threats were all considered “the smell of prosperity.”
Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller, “Silent Spring,” written in 1962, was the first critical look at the issue of environmental pollution. Carson’s book marked a shift in global environmental history by raising public awareness and concern for clean air, clean water, and the conservation of nature and wildlife. Also, Carson’s book was the first large-scale work to effectively link pollution to human health.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that before the 1970 Earth Day movement, there was no Endangered Species Act, “no EPA, no Clean Air Act, no Clean Water Act. There were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment.” But in spring 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson (WI) created Earth Day where “Twenty million Americans demonstrated in different U.S. cities, and it worked! In December 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.” This development bolstered a global environmental protection movement.
2020 Earth Day Theme Is Climate Action
This year, Earth Day celebrates the theme of “climate action.” Climate action is rooted in the problem of global climate change.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says that “Climate change is a significant variation of average weather conditions—say, conditions becoming warmer, wetter, or drier—over several decades or more. It’s that longer-term trend that differentiates climate change from natural weather variability. And while ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ are often used interchangeably, global warming—the recent rise in the global average temperature near the earth’s surface—is just one aspect of climate change.”
Due to the global impact of climate change on people’s health, livelihoods, and food security, there is a need for climate action. Climate action is one of 17 United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); climate action is Goal #13. The UN SDGs are international goals comprising “the world’s best plan to build a better world for people and our planet by 2030.”
Goal #13 of the SDGs states: “With rising greenhouse gas emissions, climate change is occurring at rates much faster than anticipated and its effects are clearly felt worldwide. While there are positive steps in terms of the climate finance flows and the development of nationally determined contributions, far more ambitious plans and accelerated action are needed on mitigation and adaptation.”
Climate action includes four global target areas. These areas are atmosphere, climate change, national sustainable development strategies, and small island developing states.
How to Celebrate Earth Day Online
To find out what you can do for Earth Day 2020, visit Earthday.org for ideas and how to find digital Earth Day events such as “Earth Day live.” Earth Day target several local issues you can become involved with from your own local community, including climate action, science and education, people and communities, conservation and restoration, and plastic and pollution.
People can also take the Earth Day “Daily Challenge” by participating in different activities. These activities include composting, becoming a citizen scientist, measuring your carbon footprint, and volunteering and teaching science to your local communities.
In addition, NASA offers educational Earth Day activities through its #EarthDayAtHome with NASA program. You’ll find videos, online games, mobile apps, social media, and Lego activities, especially created for Earth Day.
Climate Change and the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Earth Day event “24 Hours of Action” connects COVID-19 and climate change action. Earthday.org states that the COVID-19 pandemic “reminds us of what’s at stake in our fight for the planet. If we don’t demand change to transform our planet and meet our climate crisis, our current state will become the new normal — a world where pandemics and extreme weather events span the globe, leaving already marginalized and vulnerable communities even more at risk.”
By participating in digital Earth Day events, we can do our part. But we should act every day – not just on Earth Day.
About the Author
Dr. Kristin Drexler is a full-time faculty member of Geography and Conservation of Natural Resources for American Public University’s School of STEM. She earned her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership at New Mexico State University by researching socio-ecological systems, sustainable agroecology, and community extension education. She earned her Master of Arts in International Affairs from Ohio University, with an emphasis in natural resources management.
Kristin has conducted numerous community surveys in Belize regarding agroforestry, conservation and sustainable agriculture. Until she became a full-time instructor with APU in 2009, she was an environmental scientist in New Mexico, conducting field biology surveys and environmental impact analyses. Drexler founded the Belize Field School Program at NMSU, coordinating short courses in Belize in wildlife, agroforestry, marine ecology, and documentary film (2006-2014).
Most recently, Kristin produced an award-winning short film, “Yochi,” a story about youth conservation and action against poaching and illegal wildlife trade. In the late 1990s, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Belize. She serves on the board of directors of Full Basket Belize, a U.S. nonprofit that provides high school scholarships and community grants in Belize. Kristin also regularly volunteers as a faculty advisor for APU’s wSTEM and AWIS chapters.
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