On the first Earth Day – April 22, 1970 – some 3,000 people, including folksinger Pete Seeger (right), gathered at the Washington Monument.
A few miles away, in Northwest D.C., my eighth-grade class boarded a school bus for a tour of the planned community of Columbia, Maryland.
As a follow-up, our class camped on the sand of Assateague Island, planted pine seedlings and learned about the fragility of brackish marshes and the role of beach grass in preventing dune erosion. Our teacher Jim Kielsmeier recalls, “A group of students then formed the Assateague Action Committee to fight the planned commercial development of the island.”
We could argue that there’s no longer a need for Earth Day; the environmental movement went mainstream decades ago. Is anything really served by marking a day on the calendar to pay homage to how far we’ve come?
This year’s Earth Day theme is the Face of Climate Change. Whether you’re a denier, a scientist who measures CO2 in the atmosphere or a person who knows something is up, most everybody has an opinion about climate change.
Morgan Freeman has said, “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.” In the same way, we can say that every day should be Earth Day, and every month should be Earth Month.
Still, Earth Day triggers countless learning activities that wouldn’t take place otherwise. (I don’t remember too many lessons from eighth grade as vividly as I remember the ones above.) Even after all these years, Earth Day presents a significant marketing opportunity. It’s too bad that Earth Day isn’t a marketing and branding tsunami on the order of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Susan G. Komen Foundation and its Race for the Cure. People see green and think of the environment, but not in the way that they see pink and think of breast cancer. Komen has even co-opted the ribbon icon, which once was yellow. Nonetheless, green is still a pathway to the public.
In the 24-hour news cycle, newscasts, newspapers and social media will cover Earth Day events – especially if organizers avoid turn-off lines (“We’re killing Mother Earth!”) and craft messages and stories that can effectively inform viewers and readers.
Earth Day is a time to show the public that there are concrete steps we can take to make things better. It’s a time to show that the green economy is creating jobs, saving money for consumers and helping the bottom line for companies. Earth Day is about moving toward answers, not re-hashing all the problems.