How the Planet Has Changed Since the First Earth Day

What began as a U.S. Democratic Senator’s call to unite under a common cause—protecting the planet—became a watershed moment and a global phenomenon. Today, Earth Day is marked by demonstrations, parades, large-scale clean-ups, and other awareness-oriented activities. A series of movements in pockets around the world grew into a global revolution, with the Earth Day Network at the helm.

2021 marks the 51st year since the first Earth Day. This year’s theme is “Restore Our Earth”, and it seems like the right moment to look back on all the progress that has (or hasn’t) been made since the first inaugural demonstration on April 22nd, 1970.

Perception has become more nuanced 

The default view in the man versus nature debate was overwhelmingly that man was the master of nature — a perspective that drew more eyeballs during and after industrialisation. Well into the 1980s, however, more and more people began realising that disentangling ourselves from nature was not just difficult; it was also wrong. History points to several big ecological decisions being made then, from scaling back the production of chemicals to questioning the way we grew our food. 

There’s also a more nuanced understanding of the environment and its relationship to everything about human society.  Many environmental powerhouses acknowledge that the imparts of environmental damage are disproportionate, as is the representation of diversity in global movements. While the whitewashing of environmentalism has been going on for decades, there has been a promising increase in awareness of this whitewashing. We’ve also seen active attempts to pull back into the fold those people of colour for whom coexistence with the environment was always a priority. 

If anything, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic has made people even more aware of environmental challenges — thousands around the world are more committed than ever before about taking small steps towards large-scale changes. 

Earth is still getting hotter by the year

Since 1970, the average global temperature has been climbing steadily upwards — and this is at the heart of the world’s global warming problem. Temperatures today are diverging from the 20th century’s average by more than 1ºC, and there are several reasons for this spike, including:

  • More cars on the roads 
  • Increased burning of coal and natural gas for electricity
  • Out-of-control industry emissions and heavy reliance on fossil fuels 

The rise in temperatures hasn’t fallen under the radar, though. In 2015, the Paris Climate Agreement was established to battle precisely this increase by proactively attempting to limit total warming to less than 2ºC preindustrial levels. That said, we’re not stomping on the brakes hard enough, and efforts to cut down emissions across participating countries haven’t been intense enough to meet the accord’s targets. 

There’s been an uptick in pollution …

When the first Earth Day was observed, soot was darkening the sky, and smog made it difficult to breathe. Since then, however, the world has seen some powerful laws being put into motion to combat air pollution. In the U.S., for example, the Clean Air Act of 1970 was a landmark legislation; India’s Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 was similarly established to honour the country’s commitments to the 1972 United Nations environment conference.  

While there have been drops in major pollutants, we’re nowhere close to the clear skies these laws aim to make possible. Air pollution has moved from #5 to #4 on the global risk factor ranks. 

… but an increase in reuse and recycling 

For a long time, schools and organisations around the world have been enthusiastic about promoting reuse and recycling as the crux of environmental literacy. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen a heartening uptick in the number of people who want to make changes at the individual level.

The actions that folks are performing are many, but here’s what tops the list: increased recycling and composting (no surprises there), reducing household energy consumption, buying locally sourced goods to both support businesses, and avoid inadvertently backing unsustainable businesses. 

Renewable energy is gaining speed 

Tumbling costs and increased interest has made it possible for renewable energy sources—particularly solar panels and wind turbines—to gain speed. It’s definitely a new sign of optimism, given that the way humans have been powering through fossil fuels has always been a cause for concern. Technologies that were considered fringe back in the day are now mainstream, so it’s not surprising to pass by a series of windmills in the countryside or see streetlights powered by solar panels today. 

In many parts of the world, it’s even cheaper to build solar or wind farms than operate coal plants that already exist. Titans in the fuel industry are also shifting gears to renewable energy sources, which means the coming few years might see more positive changes in this domain than ever before. 

What will Earth Day look like in 2021?

This year, the Earth Day Network is calling for three days of climate action, from April 20th to the 22nd, based on the theme “Restore Our Earth.” The first two days will play host to three separate yet parallel climate action summits, and U.S. President Biden has called for a global leaders’ climate summit as well.

On Earth Day, partners, activists, educators, and enthusiasts from all over the world will gather for the second annual Earth Day Live — a multi-channel live stream with workshops, discussions, debates, and performances centered on the year’s theme. Over 1 billion people are expected to participate and, meanwhile, choose to undertake any of 51 actions that the Network has specified. 

How can you help?

Action #10 on the Earth Day Network’s list involves stopping deforestation — and with the aid of EcoMatcher, you can do just that. 

This Earth Day, make a positive change by planting trees in some of the most affected parts of the world — as an organisation or as an individual. It’s an excellent opportunity to mobilise thousands of people to do one good deed while going about their day. A great way to do this is by integrating the EcoMatcher plug-ins with your eCommerce platform, so customers can buy a tree right as they’re paying their bill. If you’re at the helm of a large organisation, you could also consider gifting trees to your team or adopt an entire forest in your country of choice. 

There’s no action, big or small, when it comes to saving the planet. But by planting trees, you’re proactively fighting against many environmental issues—including deforestation, habitat destruction, and global warming—at one go!

Education is also the need of the hour when it comes to fighting climate change. EcoMatcher’s Kindle book, “Ideas to Fight the Climate Crisis”, is a great place to start. It takes you through a wide range of strategies and ideas to become a more Earth-friendly company and leverage sustainability, which is the Next Big Thing. 

The final word

While the pandemic has changed what Earth Day movements look like, it hasn’t quelled the enthusiasm or the need for the event. To restore the planet, maintain it, and improve it all the more, we’ll need all hands on deck during this decade — and this year’s Earth Day is a great place to start.