Earth Day turns 41, now what?


As of April 22, Earth Day will be 41 years old. Started in 1970, this annual observance offers an opportunity to review the state of the earth and of the movement to save it. Many will focus on the thinking of Gaylord Nelson and Dennis Hayes, the "official" founders, and what they originally intended.

The problem with Earth Day is that it is usually accompanied by two divergent approaches. One is the nice, feel-good style of school observances, all about how we each can individually make a difference. The other is vaguely or explicitly apocalyptic, all about how dire the threats to our existence are.

It is easy to fall into despair about the future because there really are dire threats: global climate change, declining crops yields, increasing water stress, escalating extreme weather events, much faster rates of species extinction and deforestation, depletion of natural resources, to mention just some.

It is hard to find a balanced and sensible way forward in all this. New technical and scientific possibilities are seen by some as magic bullets to solve one or another of our environmental challenges. Others seem determined to dash any hopes for a better future, to find nothing but signs of impending disaster.

The environmental movement is not really a single movement with a unified approach. Some organizations focus on electoral activism (the League of Conservation Voters), others on preserving undeveloped land (the Nature Conservancy), others on legislative action and coalition building (the Sierra Club), others on threats of species extinction, to list just a few.

Alongside these movements, there are many scientists and inventors working hard at finding new and better ways of accomplishing energy production, manufacturing, agriculture, and transportation.

Additionally, there are many organizations, including unions, which organize to fight particular health and environmental threats, and there are many millions of people who strive to make better choices for the environment in their own lives.

We need to recognize the need for all these approaches. We need to unify a real understanding of the truly dire threats with a positive recognition of new scientific developments, with the understanding that the various environmental crises we face are not primarily technical problems but require mass movements and the involvement of tens of millions of people.

Earth Day is a moment to recommit ourselves to protecting the planet, and to building the mass movements and coalitions necessary to saving humanity and the planet on which we depend.

Image: Stephen Thomas // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • The Marx/Engels-Lenin and the many others who have developed the new culture of public science and service that we see in almost all countries is worth identifying and promoting.
    I went to grammar schools at Eugene Field and John Dewey,in St. Louis,MO and junior high in Meridian,MS, to George Washington Carver,never knowing much of Field's connection with Dred Scott,Dewey's with Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein,or Carver's revolutionary science,saving Southern agriculture in some measure.
    In the public civic activism and public education and socialism of Dewey,protecting public science, volumes are spoken to ecological concerns and how we would value all approaches of the working people to protect Mother Earth.
    As W.E.B. Du Bois points, out the civil right to be free to know is maybe our most precious and maybe 5,000 years old.
    To know, with all the world's peoples, and to work with them in solving ecological and environmental problems is an immediate concrete problem that is as urgent as the air we breathe.
    We have to demand this, be flexible in doing this, and show that if we cannot,we cannot be.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 04/22/2011 10:54am (5 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments