Earth Day Finds Renewed Purpose at 50


By Christina Phillis

Once upon a time smoke and smog filled the skies, acid and oil clogged rivers and streams, and trash piles formed an ominous backdrop for most major U.S. cities. This was before rigorous water and air pollution regulations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and modern recycling. In the 1960s, people were just starting to learn about the grave effects of pollution on their health and the environment. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which documented the dangerous effects of pesticides,came out in 1962. Years later Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught on fire due to chemical waste disposal.

The first Earth Day, held on April 22, 1970, is when 20 million Americans took to the streets to say enough is enough. Rallies were held in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Washington, D.C., and hundreds of other U.S. cities to protest against the destruction of the environment. The day was so influential that it led to the creation of the EPA and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

A New Call to Action

2020 marks Earth Day’s 50th anniversary and, with it, a greater urgency than ever before to protect our planet. This year’s “climate action” theme hearkens back to the day’s original grassroots spirit, while focusing on future challenges and opportunities for turning the tide of climate change. With thousands of events planned involving billions of people worldwide, the Earth Day Network is using this semicentennial celebration to usher in a new wave of environmental activism that demands more meaningful and lasting change for the better. Get involved with these events and tools.

The Great Global Cleanup

Earlier this year, President Kathleen Rogers spoke at the Clean World Conference in Estonia to share the details of the Great Global Cleanup and invite cleanup organizations worldwide to engage in solving global waste issues.

The Great Global Cleanup is expected to be the largest environmental volunteer effort in history with a goal of removing billions of pieces of trash from green spaces, urban communities, and waterways. Use the interactive map at to find and register for a nearby event or create your own.


Hundreds of rallies, meetups, and strikes have already taken place all over the world with the goal of mobilizing change. Earth Day Network and Strike With Us, a campaign of nine youth-led climate organizations and adult allies, coordinated strikes on Wednesday, April 22; community action events on Thursday, April 23; and a push for voter registration and participation in 2020 elections on Friday, April 24. Visit to register your EARTHRISE event.

Earth Challenge 2020

Make your own contribution to the amount of open and interoperable citizen science data. The Earth Challenge 2020 mobile app allows you to collect observations on air quality, plastic pollution, and insect populations. The goal is to collect billions of data points that will contribute newinsights and help drive policy changes in these areas.

Foodprints for the Future

Food production and consumption account for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. Foodprints for the Future hopes to show individuals and institutions how they can decrease their “foodprint” — the impact their food production and consumption has on the environment.

Resources at include foodprint calculators to estimate your current impact and tips for consuming less meat and eating more plants. Colleges and universities can take the 20/20 Foodprints for the Future pledge by replacing 20% of animal products with plant-based alternatives and reducing campus food waste by 20%.

Artists for the Earth

Art can reach people on a more personal level to help drive a deeper understanding and emotional connection with what’s happening to our planet. Artists for the Earth encourages artists and art organizations all over the world to engage the public in critical environmental issues. Educators are being asked to integrate arts programming about the environment into their curricula.

Global Teach-Ins

Inspired by the original teach-ins from the first Earth Day 50 years ago, the Earth Day Network is providing the resources necessary to organize your own environmental teach-in in your local community. Teach-ins are defined as lectures and discussions on a subject of public interest. A 2020 Teach-In Toolkit on outlines the steps you can take to plan your own event.

Earth Day Every Day

From the wildfires in Australia to the melting ice sheet in Greenland, the effects of climate change are being felt all over the world every day. Scientists warn that we have only a decade to reduce our carbon emissions by half to avoid the worst-possible outcomes. Earth Day is certainly a great opportunity to reinvigorate the cause, but the work is far from over. 

The Earth Day Network is encouraging and supporting continued action at every level. Heads of state are being asked to increase their national commitments to the Paris Agreement on climate change. Leaders in the private sector are being called upon to address climate change at every step of the supply chain. Individual citizens are being challenged to use their influence to drive change. As we quickly approach our climate’s breaking point, there has never been a better time to stand up, speak up, and show up.

Discussion Questions

  • Brainstorm actions individuals, businesses, and governments can take to combat climate change. How can all of these stakeholders work together to make a difference?
  • Use the Earth Challenge 2020 mobile app. Collect observations on plastic pollution, air quality, and insect populations. Discuss your findings.


  • Grassroots
  • Climate change
  • Foodprint
  • Interoperable
  • Teach in