Shouldnít Earth Day be Every Day?
Alisia Engle and Katherine Raymond

The first Earth Day was held in 1970; 20 million participated! Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, claimed it took more than eight years for the idea to become a reality. His goal was to shed light on environmental issues relevant to our lives, concerns which many Americans, politicians and citizens alike, did not deem newsworthy. In 1963 the first step of his operation began. President Kennedy was persuaded to embark upon a state conservation tour. When Kennedy’s tour did not generate enough attention Senator Nelson took matters into his own hands. He traveled across the country to publicize his cause to the American people. Nelson found that the American people were indeed interested in the cause, but the politicians did not share this interest. Six years later the Senator came up with the idea for Earth Day, a grassroots shout against harm to the environment.  At this time, during the Vietnam War, there was a lot of energy on the ground to motivate and organize people. Here was an opportunity to tap into this energy for change. To describe the commitment of the American people to the first Earth Day, Senator Gaylord stated,

“We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.”

Gaylordís idea of a day dedicated solely to recognizing the environmental issues plaguing our earth led to the creation of government agencies and laws to promote and enforce environmental sustainability. The Environmental Protection Agency was founded the same year as the first Earth Day celebration. Congress amended the Clean Air Act to set national air quality, auto emission, and anti-pollution standards.

Today, schools and communities all over the country celebrate Earth Day with some sort of awareness event. Science classes are cancelled and students go on a field trip to a nature preserve. Often, there will be a school assembly or gathering to celebrate the earth and do school-wide clean-ups. The two or three weeks before the actual day, teachers, students and community organizations spend time preparing their presentations or activities for Earth Day. The day comes and everyone has a great time celebrating the earth. The next day, however, the excitement dissipates because the planning is finished and the event is over. Within a week most of us forget all about Earth Day; we go back to our usual habits, recycling or not, perhaps picking up trash or not.

The problem with the hype around Earth Day is that the earth goes on the back burner when the celebration is done. Okay, weíve taken care of the earth for a day, now letís get back to our normal lives. The simple but profound reason the earth is in the shape it is today is that we havenít paid enough attention to the environment and sustainability. We take our home for granted 364 days a year, and we fool ourselves that with one day of celebration and stewardship everything is all better. This doesnít work. The one-day event doesnít create enough yearlong awareness to stop the rising number of greenhouse gas emissions. It doesnít stop our polar ice caps melting, sea levels rising, freshwater disappearing and mass extinctions occurring. While the purpose of the day, as Sen. Gaylord designed it, is to educate and spread awareness, the one-day focus makes the true needs seem less important. 

We must shift the way the general public connects to nature.  Some positive change is slowly happening as more nonprofit environmental groups spread the message of the importance of having earth day every day. National Geographic has lesson plans for teachers; the Wilderness Society, the EPA, all have educational resources that focus on the importance of daily earth awareness rather than once-a-year events.

Earth Day still serves its original purpose by getting lots of people to think, however briefly, about the environment. It also results in airtime on major media outlets for lots of scientists bringing the message to many people. The shift that we need now is to have this happen every day. If we can get more than 20 million people to think about the environment for one day out of the year, why couldn’t we get one million people doing something 365 days of the year? Let us remind ourselves as we celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day that every day should be earth day.

Alisia, a business student at SUNY Oswego, has a passion for sustainability issues and the importance of getting out there and doing something. Katherine is an environmental activist who wants to help save the environment before itís too late.