22 April is Mother Earth Day. Who says so? The United Nations in 2009:
“…Acknowledging that the Earth and its ecosystems are our home, and convinced that in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social, and environmental needs of present and future generations, it is necessary to promote harmony with nature and the Earth,
Recognizing that Mother Earth is a common expression for the planet earth in a number of countries and regions, which reflects the interdependence that exists among human beings, other living species and the planet we all inhabit,
Noting that Earth Day is observed each year in many countries,
UN General Assembly, 1 May 2009
- Decides to designate 22 April as International Mother Earth Day…”
This was after many decades of international collaboration starting with a conference in Stockholm in 1972 which led to 5 June being declared World Environment day. The UN continued to press forward with international conferences: 1992 with Agenda 21, the Rio declaration and a statement on Forests; Earth Summit in Johannesburg in 2002, and 2008 declared International Year of Planet Earth.
Meanwhile in the USA, Earth Day began in 1970 to be celebrated on 22 April following an oil spill at Santa Barbara in the USA which sparked an environment movement that became organised as earthday.org. 22 April was chosen as a convenient day for US colleges in the break before the summer term and end of year exams.
From its beginning in 1970, Earth day was planned as a time for education and campaigning about the environment, first against pollution, with that oil spill, and Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ in mind. The name was chosen on the advice of a publicist because it rhymes with birthday. It could have been called ‘Ecology Day’ or ‘Environment Day’.
Always with an emphasis on public education about the environment, it is fascinating to see how different themes evolved across the 50 years. In the 1970s, the US generated lots of anti-pollution legislation, which produced more awareness by the 1980s of how humans are harming the planet. By the 1990s, the movement which had become so vigorous in the USA started to internationalise, with events celebrated in different parts of the world. The scientists’ warnings about climate change now needed to be made more clearly. Earth Day 2000 was about Global Warming and Clean Energy.
Twenty years of themes
Glancing through the themes of the next two decades, one sees how the various environmental calls develop:
2003 Water for Life
2006 Move away from Oil dependence (big conference in the Netherlands)
2007 Urban and rural clean-ups
Faith leaders in the US now involved in the calls:
2009 Teach-ins on Global warming solutions
2010 (40th anniversary) 1 billion people reckoned to have observed Earth Day, now with a network of environmental volunteer activists
2012 Campaign for actions by communities
2013 Get personal with climate change solutions
2014 Green cities
2016 Mayors of big cities to get involved on focus on the Earth
2017 Climate literacy and education
2018 End plastic pollution
2019 Protect our species
2020 Covid caused Earth Day to use internet streaming with three days of citizen science, community engagement and clean-ups, led by youth activists
2021 Restore our Earth now connects to Food and the environment, tree-planting in the Canopy project, and youth campaigns for environmental Justice – what about the communities affected by climate change?
2022 As well as food concerns, tree-planting and clean-ups, sustainable fashion now called for
2023 Invest in the Planet Earth is the theme declared on the website of earthday.org, with a picture of solar panels, and wind-blades above them.
Organisations are invited to list their events, and the top ten are clickable.
A clean-up after the hurricane in Florida
Green heart of Rome celebrated
Clean-up in Srinagar, India, around a lake of houseboats that is a tourist attraction
A fun-day of African traditional music and food in Zimbabwe
In Haiti, prayer at sunrise on top of a volcano
Extinction Rebellion march in London, the day before the London marathon
This last may stimulate a sceptical re-look at the website explanation of the 2023 theme:
“Sustainability is the path to prosperity for humanity and business alike. Companies who’ve developed strong environmental self-governance (ESG) standards are seeing better profitability, stronger financial performance and happier employees. There is no longer a choice between going green and growing long-term profits”
These are optimistic words from the other side of the Atlantic, where the pursuit of happiness and prosperity is written into the constitution. Here in the UK where the government seems ready to permit a new coal mine, and to continue to subsidise North Sea gas extraction, and the fuel companies make ginormous profits, we are not so sure that capitalism can be curbed by business being content with long-term ‘green profits’ rather than the greedflation of quick high returns which seems to motivate most investors.
However, the American 2023 exhortation does continue:
“it is crucial for business of all sizes to act now, If they don’t, climate change will cause more catastrophic damage to our economies and negatively affect us all.”
One business that is enthusiastic about the theme of Earth Day 2023 is the Bristol-based Triodos bank, which has been consistently scored at top ratings on most ethical criteria by the Ethical Consumer.
In its invitation to customers for its April AGM it asks:
“Can you envision a world where all people have the tools and resources to live fulfilling lives? A world where the economy operates in harmony with nature and within planetary boundaries?
For over 40 years, Triodos Bank has been a driving force in the transformation towards this vibrant world. Our vision is a prosperous life for people on a thriving planet.
We all feel the need for action to change the way we produce, live and invest. The most critical task facing humanity today is to navigate a social and ecological transformation to a just, sustainable and prosperous society.”