Jennifer hiking in a forest

It is hot and humid as I walk over the hilly terrain of Forest Park in St. Louis. There is a sense of excitement in the air. Chants of “Save Mother Gaia” can be heard emanating from white tents scattered throughout the park. Incense invades my nostrils.

It is Earth Day. I am 17, and stumbled upon the festivities while on a college visit. I had never really known what Earth Day was, but those few hours wandering the park, looking at and absorbing all the information, opened my eyes to a whole new world—one which needed help. It was this event that set me on my path to study the environment.

Earth Awareness

1970 marked the first Earth Day, which was conceived in Wisconsin. Junior Senator Gaylord Nelson (a Democrat) and congressman Pete McCloskey (a Republican) joined forces to organize a teach-in. Teach-ins became popular on American college campuses during the Vietnam War. Teach-ins are designed to be a series of lectures and discussion with a focus on action on a specific timely issue.

Nelson and McCloskey thought this format was perfect for getting the word out about the dangers the Earth was facing. This was the time of the Santa Barbara oil spill, discoveries of the catastrophic effects of the pesticide DDT and burning rivers. This is also the time the world was wowed by the first picture of the Earth from space (1968), which really brought home the concept of the Earth as one.

Earth Day Goes International

The idea of an Earth Day gained steam across the country, and on April 22, 1970, events were held all across America. Celebrity speakers—including Pete Seeger, Ali McGraw and Paul Newman—took center stage to raise awareness and incite change. By its 20th year in 1990, Earth Day was being celebrated internationally with more than 140 nations participating.

Pandemic Lessons

Now it’s 2021—and the world is hoping to emerge from a year of unimaginable change. Yet the COVID pandemic illustrated that perhaps healing the Earth is not so hard.

Many cities saw scenes on their horizons that had not been visible for years due to poor air quality. Yet with fewer cars on the road and factories at lower production, skies cleared. Noise pollution also abated as the world slowed down.

Earth Day 2021: Restore Our Earth

As we begin ramping back up, let’s do it intentionally and recall the beauty of the slower lane—and in turn, the beauty that that slower lane lends the Earth. As we prepare for Earth Day 2021, let’s look back on that first Earth Day as proof that bipartisan cooperation is possible, and together America and the world can make a difference.

This April 22, the theme is Restore Our Earth. I asked my Environmental Science students to make a pledge to honor this theme in the upcoming year. I will do the same.

I also plan to get outside. In the evening, instead of attending any live functions, my family and I will gather around the screen (oh so much of that these days!) and watch a special Earth Day documentary from National Geographic. That’s just one way to celebrate—but there are plenty of other ways to acknowledge the significance of April 22, even during a (hopefully waning) pandemic.   

How to Celebrate in 2021

Local Earth Day Events:

  • Join the Denver-based Alliance Center for one of its informative and transformative Earth Week events. “Whether you want to celebrate from home or out in nature, we have resources, webinars, tools and trainings just for you.”
  • The Sustainable Living Foundation is presenting its Earth Day Fort Collins virtually this year—with three days of virtual speakers, activities, music and resources to help you stay connected to the Earth.
  • Join Sustainable Resilient Longmont for a full day of Earth-related activities for kids and teens. And stick around in the evening to find out more about what Longmont is doing to promote economic and racial justice and equity while mitigating climate change. We’re In This Together: Equitable Climate Action in Longmont begins at 6:30 pm.

National Events:

Here are more ways to participate in Earth Day activities, wherever you are this year:

  • Join the world’s leaders for Earth Day 2021. “Together, we can prevent the coming disasters of climate change and environmental destruction.”
  • Join the Smithsonian Institution’s Earth Optimism initiative, which is working to “change the conservation narrative from one that focuses on problems and perils to highlighting impactful solutions.”
  • Watch the Earth Day Mini Film Fest. The week of showings from the One Earth Film Festival includes six outstanding feature-length films and 14 shorts that shine a light on the most important issues of our time. Learn solutions—and actions— to address climate, environmental justice, conservation, waste and more. You can also participate in filmmaker and expert Q&As.
  • Join EarthX for 10 days of films, shows and conversations designed to “inform, inspire and impact.”
  • Check out NASA’s Earth Day 50th Anniversary Toolkit from last year. Explore and learn through interactive activities, games and videos.
  • Join National Geographic’s Earth Day Eve virtual celebration, which will be an “epic countdown to Earth Day 2021—featuring memorable music acts, special appearances and inspiring stories that celebrate our shared love for the planet.”
  • Test your knowledge with this informative quiz about our Earth, its species, its resources and its threats.

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