What and When is Earth Day?
By Ray Allen, Founder, AmericanMeadows.com
April 22nd is the date most people observe, and this year (2010) will be the 40th Earth Day, no matter which founder’s date you follow. Because even though the purpose and importance of Earth Day is the same with both, there are two men who claim to be its founder and two different dates they recommend we celebrate.
Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a former Governor of Wisconsin, claiming the interest and support of President Kennedy, is called the “Founder of Earth Day”, and another man named Denis Hayes was the original coordinator of the what they call the first celebration in 1970. Their date is April 22.
After decades of promoting Earth Day, Sen. Nelson was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1995. He died ten years later in July, 2005 at age 89. You can read all about it here: “All About Earth Day".
However, John McConnell also claims “I founded Earth Day on March 21, 1970,” on his website, Earthsite.org. And Mr. McConnell, an activist editor, has some heavy-duty firepower behind his date. It was declared “Earth Day” by the City of San Francisco on March 21, 1970. And that date has other supporters. It was chosen because it is the March Equinox, the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and the first day of fall in the Southern. The famous Burmese Secretary General of the United Nations at that time, U Thant, was a supporter. The date (The actual day on the calendar is movable by a day or so.) is also World Peace Day, and there is a bell that is rung each year on this date at the UN in New York City. No less than Margaret Mead, the famous anthropologist, rang the bell and made a speech at the UN on March 21, 1977, saying “Earth Day reminds the people of the world of the need for continuing care which is vital to Earth’s safety.”
Mr. McConnell’s group is also responsible for the now-famous Earth Flag showing the globe. And is today a major supporter for a worldwide “Minute of Peace.”
Today, groups supporting both dates are successful activists in various important causes. So you have your choice. You may celebrate either date or both, since the concepts of stewardship of our environment are the same. It’s the dedication, not the date, that counts with people who care about the planet worldwide.
The Latest: It seems some commentators think Earth Day has outlived its usefulness. The group calling themselves the "bright green environmentalists" now charge that Earth Day has come to symbolize the marginalization of environmental sustainability. What's more, a May 5, 2009 editorial in the Washington Times compared Arbor Day to Earth Day, claiming that Arbor Day was a happy, non-political celebration of trees, whereas Earth Day was a pessimistic, political ideology that portrayed humans in a negative light.
Meanwhile, both organizations continue to promote "their" date and their agendas. In much of the media today, both dates (and organizations) are recognized. Even though the April date is usually mentioned most, the March date is now often called "UN Earth Day," giving it international prestige, and also adding "peace" to its purpose. On that date, it is traditional to observe Earth Day by ringing the Japanese Peace Bell, which was donated by Japan to the United Nations. Over the years, celebrations have occurred in various places worldwide at the same time as the UN event. On March 20, 2008, for example, in addition to the ceremony at the United Nations, ceremonies were held in New Zealand, and bells were sounded in California, Vienna, Paris, Lithuania, Tokyo and many other locations.