By Renee Cho
April 22 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Founded as a teach-in in 1970 by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson to educate the public about the environment after a massive oil spill, Earth Day is now a day to inspire everyone to protect our planet. It is observed by over 190 countries and more than one billion people.
This year, while we cannot gather together to celebrate this milestone because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the current situation can serve as a wake-up call: if we do not take action to protect our planet, pandemics and extreme weather events could soon become commonplace due to climate change and our other impacts on the environment.
Today Earth Day is more important than ever. Here are some of the many ways to celebrate as we shelter in place.
Take Action Online
Earth Day Network is the global coordinator of Earth Day, and its website lists a variety of ways that people can get involved.
Earth Rise is a digital global mobilization organized by the Earth Day Network. The name Earth Rise comes from that of the first full color photo of Earth, taken in 1968 by astronauts on the Moon, reminding us that our planet is grand and beautiful but also fragile. It needs our protection. Sign up for 24 hours of digital Earth Day action, which will include conversations, calls to action, performances, teach-ins and much more.
Earth Day Live is a three-day livestream of digital community events, available on earthdaylive2020.org, as well as on social media. Join activists and celebrities such as Aimee Mann, Bill McKibben, Jason Mraz, Joaquin Phoenix, Moby, Talib Kweli and many more.
- April 22 will focus on Earth Day and youth climate strikes. Join indigenous leaders and youth climate leaders as they unite through storytelling.
- April 23 will spotlight divestment, climate financing, and reorganizing the global economy so that it works for all people and the planet.
- April 24 will focus on voter registration and political engagement.
Join a local digital event, or one on the other side of the globe. Check out this map for events.
Organize your own digital event— for example, a teach-in or online community climate discussion. The Earth Day Network shows you how.
Spread the word Join a donation drive for COVID-19 relief. Call on world leaders to take action to protect the planet. Motivate friends, family and neighbors to pledge to vote. Spread the word over social media. Earth Day Live provides the resources.
Vote Earth is a global initiative urging people everywhere to use their voting power to urge leaders to address climate change, protect the environment and restore and conserve the natural world. Pledge to vote for environmental progress, get friends to vote, send a message to your leaders on April 22, and make sure you are registered to vote, educated and ready to vote in the 2020 elections. Volunteer to help a political candidate who understands the importance of taking climate action.
Make an Earth Day window sign to encourage activism and let neighbors know how to get involved.
Clean Up Your Neighborhood
Kate Orff, an Earth Institute faculty member and director of the Urban Design program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, is sheltering in place in Queens, NY and has been engaged in her own Earth Day action. She is focused on the idea of “care and maintenance,” which entails care and maintenance for colleagues, friends and family, but also for one’s immediate environment. She has adopted a stretch of road near her house, and goes out each day with gloves and a plastic bag to pick up garbage and remove invasive species. “I would love to be able to motivate and create a park design and maintenance corps [to do this] because we all can be outside, all while appropriately distancing.” Given the unstructured time we all have now, Orff said, “My goal would be to translate that time into meaningful action for the immediate care of your landscape and environment.”
Take the Earth Day Daily Challenge, a 22-day series of actions to protect the environment, which are posted by the Earth Day Network. Participants can also add their own actions with the hashtags #EarthDay2020 and #EARTHRISE.
Gather Scientific Data
Participate in Earth Challenge 2020, the world’s largest citizen science initiative. Get the app for Android and iOS devices that enables you to gather scientific information on air quality and plastic pollution near you. Earth Challenge is a joint initiative by the Earth Day Network, the Wilson Center and the U.S. Department of State.
Attend Digital Events Hosted by Columbia University and the Earth Institute
Earth Day 50/50: Looking Back, Looking Forward April 22, 10-11:30am. The Earth Institute’s live conversation with Columbia University experts, alumni and students will reflect on what environmental science and activism has accomplished since the first Earth Day and examine today’s challenges and opportunities. Hosted by Alex Halliday, director of the Earth Institute and moderated by Andy Revkin, director of the Earth Institute Initiative on Communication Innovation and Impact, the event has three parts:
- Leading the Way on Earth and Climate Research, with Maureen Raymo, research professor and director of the Core Repository at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
- Birth of a Movement: Earth Day 1970, with Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Law at Columbia University; and Fred Kent, founder of the Project for Public Spaces
- The Next 50 Years: Building a Sustainable Planet into the Future, with Maria Chart, co-chair of Columbia Eco-reps Living Green Committee and a student at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science; and Narayan Subramanian, Columbia law student and fellow at Data for Progress and Johns Hopkins Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy
Climate Change: How Bad Will it Be and What Must be Done? Interdisciplinary Panels of Leading Experts Answer These Questions on the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day April 22, 9am-1:15pm. The panels include Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Law at Columbia University, and Amy E. Turner, a senior fellow at the Sabin Center. The panels will focus on resiliency and decarbonization. The Zoom webinar is free for City Bar and NYSBA members, $15 for non-member attorneys, and free to the public.
Climate, Environment, and the Politics of Public Trust April 22, 4:30-6pm. Only open to Columbia University students and affiliates. An online, multidisciplinary panel will focus on the politics of science, consensus, and evidence in environmental and climate debates. Panelists will discuss how public trust relating to climate change and pollution has been subverted by corporations and environmental agencies in the U.S., and what kinds of changes may help rebuild trust in governmental agencies and scientific institutions. The speakers are Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Law at Columbia University; Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the Michigan State University and Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative; and Adam Sobel, professor of applied physics and applied mathematics and of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University.
Other events are listed here.
Teach and Share
Use the NASA Earth Day 2020: 50th Anniversary Toolkit NASA is providing a wealth of science resources from across the agency for outreach to young people. The programs, games, videos, books, images and posters are free for teachers, students, parents and anyone.
Watch Environmental Films
One Earth Film Festival During Earth Day week, participate in the One Earth Film Fest’s Earth Week Virtual Mini Film Festival in partnership with the city of Chicago. Enjoy free screenings of notable environmental films such as Wasted! The Story of Food Waste; The Biggest Little Farm; and films by young filmmakers; then join in the live discussion with experts via Zoom.
Binge watch 10 environmental documentaries: Virunga, Before the Flood, Years of Living Dangerously, Tomorrow, Our Planet, The Human Element, Racing Extinction, Food Inc., The Lorax, and No Impact Man.
Hold an Earth Day family movie night Watch the best family- and Earth-friendly films: Wall-E; Islands of Lemurs: Madagascar; Dr Seuss: The Lorax; School House Rock! Earth; Arctic Tale; Bears; Earth; March of the Penguins; and To the Arctic.
Turner Classic Movies celebrates Earth Day with five environmental films: An Inconvenient Truth, Koyaanisqatsi, The Plow That Broke the Plains, The River, and The Sea Around Us. April 22 beginning at 8pm.
Attend a Virtual Conference
Earth Optimism Digital Summit hosted by the Smithsonian Conservation Commons. April 22-26. It is open to all and free. The program includes a film night; virtual workshops; virtual social networking; video competitions; and panels on envisioning the future, global health, sustainable food, climate change, protecting biodiversity, environmental justice, international perspectives, climate communication, and resilience. Speakers include Jose Andres, chef and humanitarian; Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the U.N. Climate Change Convention; Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University; Bob Inglis, executive director of republicEN.org; Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund; William McDonough, founder of William McDonough + Partners, Architects; Bill McKibben, environmentalist and activist; and many more. Andy Revkin, founding director of the Initiative on Communication and Sustainability at Columbia University will participate as moderator, host and interviewer on three panels. The event also includes an opportunity to share your nature-themed artwork.
Earthx Conferences, in partnership with National Geographic, will be held April 22-27. They are open to all and free. The series of conferences will focus on energy, law, cities, technology, capital, women in the environment, the future and more. The 50th Earth Day Celebration will be livestreamed April 22, 12-7:30pm CST. It will include EarthxFilm from 1:30-2:30pm CST, speakers including Tia Nelson, daughter of Earth Day founder, Gaylord Nelson; National Geographic explorer Enric Sala; chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Neil Chatterjee, and more.
Crafting the Planet is a virtual Earth Day conference organized by the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The conference will explore the convergence of traditional conservation and restoration of the planet, and ecological innovations taking place in areas such as genetics and engineering. The program includes pre-recorded and live sessions. April 20, 8:30am-8:30pm CST. Registration is free.
Run a Race for Earth
Run a race for Earth any time between April 22 and June 17, anywhere in the world. Participate in a single or multiple run or walk. Registration ends April 21, 7:59pm EST or while slots last. The race benefits Mercy Relief, Singapore’s leading independent disaster relief agency.
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Despite the numerous opportunities to observe Earth Day virtually, some of us may regret being unable to observe and mark this milestone Earth Day together. Kate Orff, however, believes that having to celebrate virtually and spend time at home actually has benefits. “There is a lot to be learned from this period of slowing down, staying at home, and digging into our very immediate environment,” she said. “Maybe on this Earth Day, as everyone stays at home, we can take stock and reimagine our carbon footprint moving forward, and try to carry some of the positive practices forward that we are making now under duress. The notion of doing more with less and being mindful of our consumption—can we translate that into a positive and a real benefit for our living planet?”
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the Earth Institute is presenting a variety of special coverage and programming. See our Earth Day website for more of the Earth Institute’s coverage and content.