NEW YORK – Governments, businesses, and private citizens from around the world celebrated Earth Day on Friday with parades, recycling drives, conservation projects, and a shared sense of responsibility for the maintenance of the planet that we all call home.
The theme for this year’s Earth Day is “A Billion Acts of Green.” People from all countries are encouraged to make some contribution to environmental sustainability, no matter how small, and submit their act of green to the official Earth Day website. Participants have pledged to bring reusable shopping bags to stores, be more mindful of wasting electricity, and stop using plastic water bottles. These efforts, while individually small, can have a big impact on global pollution if observed by enough people.
The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, when United States Senator Gaylord Nelson spearheaded an initiative to have a single day set aside for people to remember the importance of environmental protection. As the day’s popularity grew with the United States, it began to spread into other countries. Today, more than 175 nations observe Earth Day and sponsor events and celebrations.
In 2009, the UN recognized the importance of Earth Day, and designated April 22 as “International Mother Earth Day.” “Sixty years after adopting the [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] Mother Earth is now, finally, having her rights recognized,” said Evo Morales, President of Bolivia and primary sponsor of the resolution establishing the holiday. Miguel d’EscotoBrockmann, the President of the General Assembly at the time, supported this resolution as a sign of interdependence and responsibility, saying “International Mother Earth Day promotes a view of the Earth as the entity that sustains all living things found in nature. Inclusiveness is at the heart of International Mother Earth Day; fostering shared responsibilities to rebuild our troubled relationship with nature is a cause that is uniting people around the world.”
Today, world leaders recognize the necessity of better efforts to preserve the environment and stopping escalating pollution rates. “Today, our world faces the major global environmental challenge of a changing climate, “said US President Barack Obama. “I encourage all Americans to participate in service programs and activities that will protect our environment and contribute to a prosperous, healthy, and sustainable future.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also spoke in support of Earth Day, and urged cooperation in support of a greener future. “The impact of our neglectful stewardship is being felt by the world’s most vulnerable people: those who live on desert margins; indigenous communities; the rural poor; the inhabitants of the squalid slums of the world’s expanding megacities…I call on all governments, businesses, and citizens of the world to give our Mother Earth the respect and care she deserves.”
As climate change appears to be accelerating and natural disasters take an increasingly dire toll on human and economic development around the globe, it is important to bear in mind the spirit and principles behind Earth Day. Sustainable development, both environmental and economic, is crucial for the growth and welfare of all countries. The celebration of Earth Day is a way to remind all people of this essential fact.