Earth Day: History and Happenings


Bergen Romness

April 22, 2018 is not just another Earth Day due to the bitter debates over climate change and environmental protection.

Fiona Flaherty, Sentry Staff Reporter

Earth Day is here, and many are gearing up with trash collection bags and earthy-themed foods to celebrate. But, April 22, 2018 is not just another Earth Day. Since last January, the bitter debates over climate change and environmental protection have become much more pronounced, resulting in the United States withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord and disregarding and defunding the EPA. Such actions caused many to take to the streets on Earth Day last year to participate in the March for Science. Strangely enough, these turbulent times are evocative of the time of social and political uproar that was responsible for the founding of Earth Day.

        The 1970’s were fraught with protests over the Vietnam War, driven mainly by student and young adult energy. Additionally, Rachel Carson had recently published Silent Spring, a book which served as the basis for modern environmentalism as well as channeled the antiwar movement. Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson felt the energy of the era, and had the brilliant idea to fuse student activism and environmental concerns, thereby bringing environmental protection to the national agenda. Nelson then announced an idea for a ‘national teach-in on the environment’ to the public, and built up a staff to support the day. He planned it carefully, so that the day would fall between most colleges’ spring breaks and final exams (Earth Day).

Quickly, students began to catch on, and on April 22, 1970, “thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment,” and “20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment” (Earth Day). The turnout was unprecedented, and by the end of 1970, the first Earth Day had inspired the Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Air, Water and Endangered Species Acts. The influence of Earth Day would continue to spread around the world, unifying hundreds of millions of people in over 100 countries. Its huge global prominence made it the largest secular holiday in the world and earned Earth Day the title of International Mother Earth Day from the United Nations in 2009 (United Nations).

Here in Arlington, we are lucky enough to experience some of the nation’s largest Earth Day celebrations because of our proximity to the nation’s capital. This year, Earth Day falls on a Sunday, so many of the usual celebrations have been pushed to Saturday, April 21.

Perhaps the most notable event is the annual Alexandria Earth Day Festival. Held on April 28 at the Lenny Harris Memorial Fields at Braddock Park, the event is celebrating its 25th year. Even though the festival is a week after Earth Day, it is sure to delight, as well as embrace the holiday’s values. This year’s theme is ‘Local Action, Global Impact,’ and the festival staff encourage people to either bike, take public transit or walk to the festival. Not only does the festival feature live music and interesting food vendors, but they also have their annual Upcycling Showcase, which features student works of art, literature, fashion and music all centered around creative interpretations of Earth Day. The Ellen Pickering Award will also be given at the festival. This award goes to an Alexandrian who has shown excellence in keeping the city green.

The National Zoo will also be celebrating Earth Day with Earth Optimism Day on Saturday, April 21. This day focuses on conservation and maintaining a healthy relationship between the human race and the rest of the animal world. There will be many hands on demonstrations and education stations throughout the zoo, which cover everything from how the coffee you drink every morning could protect migratory birds to how the zoo has committed to sustainability. Visitors will also have the opportunity to hear experts speak about the conservation of endangered species. The event is free and will be held from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Another event is the Celebrate Earth Day Event at the US Botanical Gardens. This event will be held on Friday, April 20th and will give people of all ages the opportunity to make their green thumbs even greener. Representatives from various environmental organizations will be out in full force to help inform the public about plants and their vital roles to life on earth. There will be many hands-on activities, including gardening demos and more.

Speaking of plant life, there are also plenty of great ways to forward the efforts of Earth Day in the Arlington community, including the Powhatan Springs invasive plant removal from 2-4 p.m. on April 22. The event is totally free and family-friendly, and it encourages all people nine years of age or older to come out and help to keep the Arlington environment free of invasive species. In the spirit of Earth Day, consider hopping on a bike to get to the park rather than getting in a car. Similar events are listed on the Arlington county website.

If you just do not feel like going out and volunteering, and would rather celebrate from the comfort of home, consider making some of these festive treats to celebrate Earth Day at home; .

Earth Day will continue to be a day that possesses an energy unlike any other. Events such as the March for Science (held on April 13) can help to change policy and capture the energy and importance of protecting our environment, but these events are not quite the same as Earth Day itself. Earth Day motivates people to get outside and volunteer, and also stresses the importance of communities moving forward to reach a shared goal. We live in a global community, and Earth Day gives us a rare opportunity to be engaged on a deeper level with our environment.