So what exactly is Earth Day? In 1969, founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, came up with the idea for a national day to focus on the environment after witnessing the ravages of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, Senator Nelson believed that by combining the energy of anti-war protests with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it could force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Partnering with a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, Pete McCloskey, and achieving a rare political alignment, they organized a nation-wide environmental teach-in on April 22, 1970.
20 million Americans — at the time, 10% of the total population — took to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day had led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. “It was a gamble,” Senator Nelson recalled, “but it worked.”
Since then, April 22nd marks the birthday of the modern, and now global, environmental movement. An annual day of action to change human behavior and provoke policy change, Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and, due to the pandemic, the first time it will be a wholly virtual day of action. The theme for this year’s event is Climate Change, which – by the way – is on every single issue brainstorming list compiled by SLP students of all ages and, so often, selected by our students as their issue of focus.
There will be no taking to the actual streets this year but there are many, many ways for young people who care deeply about the environment to get involved from home. Here are just a few ideas for what children and teens can do to both prepare for and participate in Earth Day 2020. Please share these ideas with the young people in your life- and be sure to share your own ideas in the comments section below.
WHAT KIDS & TEENS CAN DO NOW TO PREPARE FOR EARTH DAY:
- Make an Earth Day window sign
- Create Earth day artwork to share on social media, yours if you have it or ask your family members to share it on theirs.
- Call, text, e-mail, send a postcard: make sure the people in your life who are 18 & older are registered to vote. Tell them how important it is to you!
- Ask the voters in your life to pledge to vote for environmentally friendly candidates and policies. You can ask for individual pledges or create a petition and gather many signature pledges at once.
- Send a text, email or tweet to your City Council members, State Assembly members, Congressional reps, etc and ask them to pledge to support environmentally friendly policies. If there is a specific environmental policy you are passionate about, even better, ask your reps to pledge to support it
- (For older kids and teens) Become a citizen scientist: download the Earth Challenge 2020 app and gather important scientific data near you. It has two elements for you to measure — air quality and plastic pollution — with more on the way.
WHAT KIDS & TEENS CAN DO ON EARTH DAY:
- Put up your window signs
- Share your Earth Day posters and artwork on social media. Use the hashtags #EarthDay2020 and #EARTHRISE.
- Take a (socially distanced!) walk outside and appreciate the nature around you
- Pick up litter on your block – but only if you wear gloves!
- Watch an age-appropriate environmental film (such as March of the Penguins or WALL-E) or read an environmental book, such as The Lorax (young kids) or A Sand County Almanac or Silent Spring (teens.)
- Tune into Earth Day online. Note: you can search for events that are appropriate for all ages.
We’d love to hear about and feature your Earth Day advocacy! Send photos, videos, or descriptions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be thrilled to share your work.