Earth has its day

Sunday, April 22, is Earth Day. This annual day of celebration and education began in the United States in 1970, with more than 20 million people participating in their local communities or at a mass rally in Washington. Since then, hundreds of millions of people and national governments of nearly every country on the planet have taken part.

Gaylord Nelson, an environmentally active United States senator, took a leading role in organising the first Earth Day. His vision was that the "teach-ins" used by opponents of the Vietnam War could be adapted to organise a huge grassroots protest against environmental degradation. The response, he found, was "electric". Even then, Nelson saw that the people were more concerned than the politicians.

Thirty-seven years later, awareness of the planet’s fragility has increased but the fight for political action continues. As Bill McKibben wrote for chinadialogue in June 2006: "Time rushes on, in ways that humans have never before contemplated. That famous picture of the earth from outer space that Apollo beamed back in the late 1960s – already that’s not the world we inhabit; its poles are melting, its oceans rising. We can register what is happening with satellites and scientific instruments, but can we register it in our imaginations, the most sensitive of all our devices?"