Thirty-nine years ago this April, a new American holiday was born. A child of the 1960s, Earth Day began, perhaps not surprisingly, as a teach-in. A very large teach-in: On April 22, 1970, more than 20 million Americans gathered in parks, streets and classrooms across the country to learn about and bring attention to the damage being inflicted upon the planet.
True to its name, Earth Day has since gone global. From Bonn to Buenos Aires, cities around the world have watched their own Earth Day traditions grow. Today, both the list of cities and the size of the celebrations is expanding, to the point that there are almost as many ways to celebrate the holiday as there are cities on a world map.
"Earth Day is celebrated by more than one billion people from all faiths and nationalities, making it the largest secular civic holiday in the world,” says Kathleen Rogers, president of the Earth Day Network, which coordinates Earth Day events worldwide. “The Network now has a global reach with a network of more than 17,000 partners and organizations in 174 countries.”
If you’ve never participated in an Earth Day event, you might be surprised by some of the celebrations that take place. For many, the name Earth Day still conjures images of bearded professors lecturing about threatened ecosystems or gatherings of barefoot hippies selling vegan baked goods. (Not that there’s anything wrong with either of these things plus you can still find them on Earth Day.) But the celebration's offerings are now a diverse lot, ranging from pop concerts in New York and San Francisco, to marine life education adventures in upscale Southeast Asian resorts.
Earth Day can be celebrated in many ways, both individually and as part of a collective,” says Rogers. “For Earth Day 2008, the Earth Day Network is asking people to call for climate action, a global campaign to get citizens to call their national leaders on April 22 and demand bold, swift and fair action to tackle climate change.”
In the U.S., this appeal will be amplified around the country through the Green Apple Music Festival, which for three years has partnered with the Earth Day Network to raise environmental awareness with free concerts and speakers.
This year will see the biggest series of Green Apple events yet, with simultaneous day-long, all-inclusive, interactive and free events on Sunday, April 20, in eight American cities. Green Apple Fests will take place in New York in Central Park; in Washington, D.C. at the National Mall; in Chicago at the Lincoln Park Zoo; in Miami at Bicentennial Park; in Denver at City Park; in Dallas at Fair Park; in San Francisco at Golden Gate Park; and in Los Angeles at the Santa Monica Pier. All of the locations were chosen for being easily accessible by foot, bike and public transportation.
"The line-ups range from blues legends to Latin powerhouse pop stars, reggae greats, jam band favorites, conscientious hip-hop artists, R&B icons, rock bands and singer-songwriters,” says Rachel Garcia, a Green Apple Fest spokesperson.
The largest Earth Day event in the U.S. will take place on the National Mall, where prominent speakers such as Thomas Friedman and climate scientist James Hansen will speak in between more than ten musical acts, which include the hip hop band the Roots and ska legends Toots and the Maytals. In New York’s Central Park, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder headline a bill including Big Head Todd and the Monsters and others. For a complete list of Green Apple festivals and their line-ups.
The biggest Earth Day celebration in the history of Latin America will take place on April 26 at United Nations Square in Buenos Aires. Environmental groups from Mexico, Brazil and Chile have organized an all-day, all-night music festival starting at 2 p.m. and “going until dawn or into the next day,” says organizer Matias Rosenberg. Along with the music, the festival will feature photographers and filmmakers displaying their environmentally themed art. In honor of the event and the thousands of expected attendees, the city government has prepared the first ever Buenos Aires green city guide.
For those interested in marking Earth Day underwater, there is no shortage of options. Environmental activists in Malaysia have organized a series of educational dive trips off the coast of lush Tioman Island. The U.S.-based coral-reef conservation group Project Aware, meanwhile, has organized more the 200 Earth Day dives involving coral reef monitoring, underwater cleanup, and educational activities for kids. See projectaware.org to find a dive near you.
For more information on Earth Day events around the world, and information on how to organize your own Earth Day event, visit earthday.net.