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April 22, 2021 marks the 51st celebration of Earth Day – the world’s largest secular holiday born from a grassroots initiative to turn the US government’s attention to urgent environmental issues.
The 1960s were a monumental decade for the environmental movement in the US. With the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962 and environmental disasters like the Santa Barbara oil spill and Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, Americans began to understand the dangers of pollution. In 1969, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin decided it was time for larger action. Inspired by the impact of the anti-war protests, Nelson orchestrated a team of campaigners to help him organize a widespread grassroots event for environmental protection.
On April 22, 1970, thousands of people joined the first Earth Day and participated in rallies across the country. The resulting impact was incredible. The public's perspective changed immensely and support for environmental protection skyrocketed to an all-time high. Most importantly, Earth Day created a domino effect of critical change on the political forefront. In 1970, the United States created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and in the following years, passed landmark legislation like the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. By the 1990s, millions of people around the world joined in on Earth Day celebrations, turning it into the global event we recognize today.
At IFAW, we know that the individual – human or animal – is a critical component to the equation for success. We know that a single animal can mean the difference between survival or extinction for an entire species, just as a single person can make the difference between positive impact and complicit dissent.
Earth Day celebrations over the last half-century have included incredible efforts: millions of trees planted, hundreds of miles of coastline cleaned, tens of thousands of people biking to school and work from a given country. These impactful initiatives are all successful thanks to the power of individual actions. Earth Day is a reminder that we have the ability to create real change as individuals and communities. We can build the future that we strive for - one where oceans thrive free from plastic pollution, forest ecosystems buzz with biodiversity, and wildlife populations flourish around the world.
For many, this year will mark the second Earth Day in some form of COVID-19 isolation or lockdown. Coming together may not be an option where you live, but that does not mean you can’t be part of the movement. Add your voice to an online initiative for change, make decisions now about what your carbon footprint will look like when travel reopens, and if you can do so safely, volunteer your time to make impact. President Joe Biden will be celebrating by convening a Leader’s Climate Summit, positioning the climate crisis at the top of the global agenda.
51 years ago, a day was created to reach a single governing body and demand action. Today, we set our sights on broader horizons: we will celebrate Earth Month and endeavor to reach a global community to effect change everyday. Our actions and intentions hold power and we hope you join us in creating a better world for animals and people everywhere.