Earth Day has been international from the beginning, proclaimed by UNESCO in 1969, to be observed on March 21, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. It was first observed on March 21, 1970.
Independently, an Earth Day was celebrated in the US on April 22, 1970.
The Earth Day Flag features a famous photo of the Earth taken from space from an Apollo spacecraft.
Those who came together to plan for the original US Earth Day, to urgently call for changes in our actions as individuals and in policy at many levels, were motivated by the disastrous oil spill off the California coast near Santa Barbara in January 1969.
Many communities now celebrate an Earth Week. On April 22, 2017 in the US, the first March for Science was celebrated, followed a week later by the Peoples Climate Mobilization a week later.
We need Earth Day now more than ever.
In his general audience on Wednesday, April 22, 2015, a month before he issued Laudato Si’, Pope Francis urged us: ” . . . to see the world through the eyes of God the Creator: the earth is an environment to be safeguarded, a garden to be cultivated. ” This is a very old vision; it is the heart of the second creation story in the Book of Genesis.
The LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and placed there the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God made grow every tree that was delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.
Genesis 2:7−8, 15
In the US, Earth Day is sometimes linked with John Muir, whose birthday is April 21. Muir is famous for his work as naturalist, environmental philosopher, and advocate of wilderness preservation. Muir was a remarkable pioneer, ahead of his time in many ways. But Muir’s vision was not wide enough; sadly, he was more interested in plants and animals than in the Native Peoples.
For me, Aldo Leopold’s vision of Earth as a community to which we belong is a more fruitful connection with those who love this fragile planet, our island home. Here are two of my favorite Leopold quotes on what he called the land ethic. Both are from the wonderful essay collection A Sand County Alamanac.
We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.
All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively the land.
So gather with like-minded people wherever you are this weekend and next. Volunteer to pick up trash, to plant, to write letters and send emails, to register people to vote, to support farm workers. Talk with your family and parish about cutting down on use of non-renewables. Connect these local actions with the vision of Laudato Si’.
Here is how the Global Catholic Climate Movement envisions their work to enact the vision of Laudato Si’: