During the International Conference Call to Launch the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, participants from around the world were invited to ask questions during a Q&A session. Amazingly, Denis Hayes (the principal organizer of the first Earth Day) answered our question. We asked:
“As mentioned, we are now seeing a link between humanitarian issues and environmental issues, how do you think this compares to 1970 when Earth Day was first created, and how do you think we can prevent these issues from falling to the wayside once again?”
Hayes’s response takes us full circle on Earth Day then and now. His full response can be read below:
“From the historical perspective, the important thing about 1970 is that it came out of the 1960’s, a truly unique, historic decade in American life. Where the civil rights movement had enormous power going for it and then followed by a couple of assassinations. And the anti-war movement had enormous power going for it, and lead ultimately to the killings at Kent State.
“Things were polarized and divisive.
“But all of those different movements, including the feminist movement and environmental movement all shared a fairly broad common set of values and all participated in one another’s events.
“Some of the most vibrant groups in the first Earth Day were people who were trying to stop free-waste from cutting through their own inner-city neighborhoods and destroying the vitality that existed there, and those for the most part were African-American groups. Cesar Chavez and the Chicano Movement were concerned about a great many things but among them was planes flying over the fields and dowsing the workers with pesticides, they were participating as well.
“In the aftermath of that, I’m afraid the environmental movement did become increasingly dominated by white, college-educated, upper-middle class people who remained devoted to that set of issues as other people in the movement were focused on the things that were of most immediate relevance to them.
“I think in 2020, ‘climate’ hits so very many aspects of the human existence that it will remain a dominant issue for a great many people. There may be a war going on, there may be starvation going on, there may be anything, gun violence going on. But overlying all of that, I think will be this abiding concern with having the changes that give everyone a livable planet, 10, 20, 30 years from now. So my hope is that this time through it’s not going to be a matter of shifting priorities, but rather a firm bedrock of commitment across all these different interest groups to radically and abruptly change the way that the world operates.”
As Hayes foretells in his closing sentiments, 'climate' is more than just an environmental issue, it is an issue that envelopes the human existence. The goal of Earth Day 2020 is to unite people, and incite the sense of urgency for climate action among our world leaders and policy makers that is needed to create change. The past 50 years have proven that change is not going to happen on its own, but that it is up to the people, across all interest groups to interrupt the status quo.
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