Towards sustainability: 45 years of Earth Day

As millions of people around the world celebrated the 45th Earth Day on Wednesday, we take a look at how far the global environmental movement has come.

Earth Day, dubbed by many as the world’s largest civic event, is marked on April 22 every year and celebrates the global environmental movement.

This year, to commemorate the Day’s 45th anniversary, its organisers from Earth Day Network have chosen the theme “It’s our turn to lead”. 

Here are some quick facts:

The global event had its origins in the anti-war movement in the US, where students nationwide protested against the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War during the 1960s. In 1969, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin witnessed the massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California and riding on the wave of heightened social consciousness among the anti-war faction, took the opportunity to put environmental protection on the national agenda and raise Americans’s awareness of air and water pollution.

This culminated in the first Earth Day in 1970, when 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks and auditoriums to protest against the deterioration of the environment.

As a result of this campaigning, several environmental laws were passed, including the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency was created in December 1970.

Earth Day eventually became a global movement in 1990 when its leaders in the US took it to 140 countries, mobilised 200 million people and put recycling efforts on the map of global sustainability initiatives. The events helped pave the way for the first United Nations Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, where an agreement on the Climate Change Convention was signed. This became the precursor to the historic Kyoto Protocol

In 2000, Earth Day’s campaigns focused on global warming and the importance of shifting from fossil fuels to clean energy. The Internet allowed the organisers to link up with more than 5,000 environmental groups in 184 countries and reach out to hundreds of millions of people. Hundreds and thousands of people gathered at a climate rally at National Mall in Washington DC, calling for world leaders to make a dramatic shift to clean energy.

Fast-forward to 2015, organisers at Earth Day Network believe this could be the most exciting year in the history of the environmental movement. They call it “the year in which economic growth and sustainability join hands” on their website.

The group is urging people to participate in numerous climate action campaigns, including getting two billion “Acts of Green” pledges by December, just in time for the Conference of Parties climate change meeting in Paris.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who spoke to more than 200,000 Americans on Global Citizen Earth Day on Saturday, noted in his message on the UN website: “The big decisions that lie ahead are not just for world leaders and policy-makers. Today, on Mother Earth Day, I ask each one of us to be mindful of the impacts our choices have on this planet, and what those impacts will mean for future generations.”

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