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Earth Day 2012: Too different from the first?

Earth Day 2012: Too different from the first?
This year’s celebration features the theme “Mobilize the Earth.”

On April 22 this year, 175 countries will be celebrating Earth Day to increase awareness and appreciation of the Earth's natural environment. Starting as an environmental teach-in meant for U.S. universities in 1969, Earth Day has grown into a 1 billion-strong celebration, with some countries having week-long festivities.

The Earth Day Network, the celebration's organizer, tied up with over 22,000 partners in 192 countries to "broaden, diversify and mobilize the environmental movement." Their campaign, "A Billion Acts of Green," lets people from all over the globe participate by collecting pledges of small gestures that individuals can make to be more earth friendly, acts that together make a big impact.

This year's celebration features the theme "Mobilize the Earth," which aims to get people to participate in the discussion on environmental issues and put pressure to their political leaders to make these issues a priority.

A rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. is in place, where tens of thousands of environmentally-conscious people from all walks of life and all parts of the country are expected to be joined by civic leaders and celebrities to "galvanize the environmental movement."


Former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, known also as an environmental and conservation activist, initiated the "teach-in" hoping to demonstrate popular political support for an environmental agenda. The idea was conceived after Mr. Nelson saw the aftermath of the 1969 Santa Barbara, California oil spill.

The proposal reached then-Harvard graduate student Denis Hayes, currently an environmental activist, who went to Washington, D.C. with a handful of young college graduates to plan what was to become the first April 22 Earth Day. A nationwide patchwork of demonstrations and community activities attracted about 20 million Americans.

According to author Jack Lewis in his essay "The Birth of EPA", the first Earth Day celebration brought 20 million Americans "out into the spring sunshine" for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform. "The first Earth Day lives in popular memory to this day as a joyous and life-affirming moment in American history," he added.

The 1990 Earth Day was memorable for waging stronger marketing tools, greater access to television and radio, and multimillion-dollar budgets. According to a New York Times report, enterprises that joined the festivities were looking for a variety of bottom-line results rather than profit, such as steering millions of investors and consumers to "being sensitive to environmental concerns," and to increase investments in "environment-friendly" products and processes.

The highlight of the event was the Earth Day 20 International Peace Climb at Mt. Everest, led by Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit the mountain in 1963. It was the first time mountaineers from the U.S., the former Soviet Union and China roped together to climb a mountain, let alone Mt. Everest. The group also collected over two tons of trash left behind by previous expeditions.

Opposing views

Like the 1990 celebration, the past few Earth Days have been criticized for being commercialized and politicized, allegedly defeating the celebration's purpose.

Alex Steffen of, the proponent of bright green environmentalism, or the belief that the convergence of technological change and social innovation provides the most successful path to sustainable development, asked his readers to make Earth Day 2007 their last.

"Throughout much of North America and across the globe, hundreds of thousands of people who care about the environment will get together at protests, concerts, neighborhood clean-ups and tree-plantings... and accomplish almost nothing," said Mr. Steffen. "Earth Day has served its time, and it must go."

He says the celebration has become a ritual of sympathy for the idea of environmental sanity, and the small steps like turning off the water while brushing your teeth are essentially meaningless without larger, systemic action.

Rebecca Tarbotton, executive director of Rainforest Action Network, labeled Earth Day a "Corporate Greenwash Day" in her blog post in The Huffington Post.

She stressed the "incessant barrage of eco-PR," where she could "green her dog's food, her breath freshener, and even have green coal and oil companies."

While she lauds Earth Day as a genuine time of celebration and reflection, the corporations hyping their green image are reportedly making Earth Day their own celebration.

While some believe that larger action is what's necessary, others may say that in this day and age, it can be a matter of counting the good stuff where one can. In the case of Earth Day, like Earth Hour which happened just recently, it definitely is not a solution to a problem, but just one of many.

Or at least a day, out of the 365, where one gets to put the word "Earth" in front. (Nico P. Arboleda)

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