Earth Day turns 50, goes online

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Fifty years ago, on April 22, 1970, about 20 million people gathered throughout the nation for the first celebration of Earth Day in the United States. 

Earth Day was founded by Wisconsin senator and former governor, Gaylord Nelson who is now best-known as the father of Earth Day due to his efforts in creating the holiday. The day was envisioned as a day dedicated to teaching Americans about the environment and the threat of climate change. 

Nelson believed that if people knew more about the environment, they would take better care of it and demand better protection. The first Earth Day was celebrated with festivals as well as teach-ins and speeches.

On that first Earth Day, Nelson gave a speech in Denver, Colorado, addressing what the word ‘environment’ really encapsulates and its importance in the meaning of Earth Day. 

“Environment is all of America and its problems. It is rats in the ghetto. It is a hungry child in a land of affluence. It is housing that is not worthy of the name; neighborhoods not fit to inhabit,” Nelson said. “Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.”

Earth Day is a day dedicated to the education of a nation in hopes that its citizens will fight against environmental injustice in minority neighborhoods, vote for candidates who will protect the environment and do their part in preventing climate change. 

“You’re not entitled to pollute your environment and mine, and that every citizen is entitled to a decent environment,” Nelson said. 

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the world is facing another serious threat — the COVID-19 pandemic. As citizens are advised to remain indoors and practice social distancing, celebrating Earth Day in the traditional fashion is out of the question. However, people are finding safe ways to celebrate such as virtual conferences, social media challenges and in their own homes.

The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, named after Gaylord Nelson, is hosting an online Earth Day conference Monday April 20th from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. central. The content will be available at this link until 8:30 p.m. 

The Henry Vilas Zoo is also celebrating with social media challenges and prizes posted on their Instagram (@henryvilaszoo) every day this week. 

However, you can celebrate in other ways as well. Below is a list of some ways you can celebrate while adhering to COVID-19 precautions.

  • Conserve energy and water in your home by turning off the lights and/or avoid running water 
  • Plant trees or flowers in pots or around your yard
  • Teach yourself or your kids proper recycling habits
  • Use reusable water bottles
  • Watch environmental documentaries
  • Take the time to learn something new about our planet
  • Educate yourself on environmental issues in your area
  • Spend some time in your yard
  • Go for a walk (keeping six feet of social distance)
  • Earth Day crafts or baking
  • Pick up trash around your neighborhood (wearing protective gear)

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