The 50th Anniversary of Earth Day

Updated: Nov 9, 2019


"Earth Day's 50th Anniversary"

On Tuesday, October 22, 2019 the Earth Day Network held an International Conference Call to Launch the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day: Earth Day 2020. Kerry and I were fortunate enough to participate in this meeting and were given the lowdown on the 2020 global ecological initiatives. The panelists on the call included:


The call started with a few words from Denis Hayes who in 1970, as a 25-year-old grad student, worked with a team of 85 organizers across the United States to mobilize over 20 million people in protest for ecological justice. Although 1970 marked a year in history that the world will never forget, Hayes expects the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day to be “vastly larger, more diverse, more global, and more consequential” than all of its predecessors. In 1970, Earth Day and the environmental revolution forced the mainstream public to realize the implications of human-caused environmental degradation.


But Hayes argues that 2020 marks an even bigger year due to the global war on the environment being waged by the fossil fuel industry. Despite efforts to ignite change such as the implementation of the EPA and the UNFCCC Paris Agreement, many large corporations and governments continue to focus on short term financial goals rather than long-term sustainability. In the spirit of many youth activists that have already begun demanding action from politicians, Earth Day 2020 is not asking for change, but rather demanding it. 


“We demand a future” — Denis Hayes


The theme of Earth Day 2020 as announced by the Earth Day Network, is “Climate Action.” Within this overarching theme are five campaigns aimed at making the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day the most diverse and engaging Earth Day to date. 


The first campaign and the centerpiece of Earth Day 2020 is called EARTHRISE. Inspired and driven by the current youth climate strikes, EARTHRISE will attempt to be “the largest protest demonstration in history,” according to Denis Hayes. The year 2020 marks not only the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day but also the five year milestone of the Paris Agreement, and a major political election year for many countries around the world, making 2020 a crucial year for action. EARTHRISE will be organized by the Earth Day Network in collaboration with current youth activist groups such as Fridays for the Future, Earth Uprising, and Earth Guardians

As 14 year old activist and founder of Earth Uprising, Alexandria Villaseñor put it, “the climate crisis is continuing to get more urgent” and our activism must become even louder to be heard by world leaders. To get involved in EARTHRISE use the hashtag #EARTHRISE on social media to join the conversation and plan to strike from school or work this coming Earth Day on Wednesday, April 22nd 2020.

"2019 NYC Climate Strike" (Photo by Kerry Shanahan, 2019)

“It isn’t just about 2020, it’s about 2070, 50 years from now. If we don’t come together... it will be a catastrophe for the next generation” — Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Jr.


Leading up to EARTHRISE will be four other campaigns including The Great Global Clean Up, Earth Challenge, Foodprints for the Future, and Artists for the Earth

1. The Great Global Clean Up


In April of 2019, the Earth Day Network organized a national clean-up in collaboration with partners, National Clean Up Day and Keep America Beautiful that spanned over the US and Canada. The Great Global Clean Up in 2020 will then be a global expansion of the 2019 initiative. Under the assumption that 2020 will kick off in the same manner as 2019, trash and litter will be disposed of in the most environmentally friendly way in accordance to the partner organizations. However, the Earth Day Network has not yet provided individual citizens with guidelines on proper waste disposal to ensure that the clean up does not cause more harm than good. Hopefully, as April 2020 approaches the Earth Day Network will provide individuals and especially larger organizations with information on how to properly sort and dispose of large quantities of waste. 


2. Earth Challenge


Earth Challenge 2020 will be a collaboration between the Earth Day Network, the Wilson Center, a research institute located in Washington, DC, and the United States Department of State to increase participation in ecocentric citizen science. Citizen science is a method of data collection and analyzation that is done by millions of participants to more quickly and accurately answer large and long standing scientific questions. Earth Challenge 2020 is attempting to answer “six core” environmental and human-health focused research questions: “How does air quality vary locally? What is the extent of plastics pollution? Is my food supply sustainable? What is in my drinking water? What are the local impacts of climate change? How are insect populations changing?” 

According to the Earth Day Network, research will be facilitated through a mobile app and “low-cost hardware including sensors to collect new data,” that will be rolling out in April of 2020. Additionally, EDN plans to roll out a wide variety of educational resources for the public to have better access to citizen science in the future. 


3. Foodprints for the Future

Foodprints for the Future will help to create long term sustainability and combat climate change within our food system. The world’s current eating habits in combination with the growing population could quite literally cause us to eat ourselves into extinction, according to Olympic Medalist and Founder of Switch4Good, Dotsie Baush. Foodprints for the Future’s mission is to create low-impact, healthy, accessible, and affordable food for all. The campaign will attempt to bring light to unsustainable animal agriculture and food waste as these are big contributors to global emissions. The livestock industry on its own creates massive amounts of emissions which could be avoided by a simple switch to a plant based diet. Foodprints for the Future is asking college campuses across the United States to sign The 20/20 Pledge to “replace 20% of animal products [in dining halls] with delicious plant-based alternatives and reduce campus food waste by 20%.” Additionally, Foodprints for the Future is offering a variety of resources on how to eat with a lower ecological impact. Resources include such concepts as how to make tasty meals while cutting down on meat and dairy, and why buying fruits and vegetables that are not in season is harmful to the environment. 


“40% of the world’s grain is fed to farm animals, while nearly a billion people go to bed hungry every single night” — Dotsie Bausch


4. Artists for the Earth


The last campaign of the Earth Day 2020 movement will be Artists for the Earth. This campaign aims to empower artists of all mediums and of all heritages to create art that inspires action. Art is a fantastic way to communicate in a way that transcends cultural barriers. It draws attention to the world’s common humanity, and it makes large-scale issues personal. By utilizing music, art, theater, dance, film, photography, and every other medium imaginable, we can help to ignite action by bridging the gap between science and personal responsibility. Some examples of high impact art pieces from previous years can be found below.

Michael Pinsky’s installation “Pollution Pods.” London, Earth Day 2018.


John Gerrard’s “Western Flag.” Spindletop, Texas, Earth Day 2017.


“Sea Sick,” Sydney Festival, 2018. 


Midnight Oil - “River Runs Red” (1990)


Rocky Dawuni - "Beats of Zion" (2019)


As an artist and environmentalist himself, Ricky Kej said on the conference call that “the models that we learn through songs and music are the models that stick with us forever.” So why not utilize music and artistic expression as a means of carrying a powerful and unifying message across the world? Kej believes that music can be the “catalyst that drives us from mere awareness to action.” If you are an artist, get involved, and contribute your chapter to the Earth Day 2020, Artists for the Earth story. 


“There always needs to be a top-dop approach to solving problems through government and legislation, but equally important is a ground-up approach through public awareness, consciousness, and action” — Ricky Kej




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