April 22, 2018
Today's Google Doodle celebrates Earth Day with a message from primatologist Jane Goodall.
Jane Goodall Celebrates Earth Day in Sundays Google Doodle
The Earth Day Network, the nonprofit organization that takes the lead in promoting the holiday today, calls it "the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement."
Environmental awareness in the U.S. had been growing throughout the 1960s, and it was a natural fit with the counterculture of the time. Rachel Carson published her book Silent Spring, which argued against the widespread use of pesticides like DDT, in 1962, and it quickly became a bestseller. Popular activism against atmospheric nuclear tests was also starting to gain steam, driven by a growing understanding of how radioactive fallout from one detonation could spread around the globe. Around the country, groups of activists were already advocating for mitigation of toxic waste dumps, conservation of wildlife, and other environmental goals.
In 1969, a blow-out on Union Oil Platform A in the Santa Barbara Channel vented nearly 100,000 barrels of oil into the Channel and onto nearby beaches, with a devastating impact on marine life. It still ranks as the third largest oil spill in U.S. history. That inspired Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson to organize a nationwide event aimed at channelling the energy of the student-led protests against the Vietnam War into environmental activism. He organized "a national teach-in on the environment" with the help of congressman Pete McCloskey.
Earth Day channeled the counterculture, but it was thoroughly an establishment project. Even so, it worked. 20 million Americans joined rallies and protests around the country on April 22, 1970.
It's difficult to directly measure the impact of Earth Day. Clearly we've come a long way since 1970: leaded gasoline, with its toxic fumes, is banned. Regulations have drastically improved the quality of our air and water and brought several endangered species back from the brink. By just the second Earth Day, the U.S. federal government had formed the Environmental Protection Agency (which recently rolled back regulations on air pollution), and passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
But it's harder to say whether those things changed because of Earth Day itself, or because of an existing impetus for better environmental policies, brought to a head by the Santa Barbara Oil Spill. Earth Day may have been as much an expression of growing public sentiment and political will as its cause. According to the Earth Day Network, though, the first Earth Day united separate environmental causes under a single banner on a massive scale.
Earth Day went international in 1990, and today the Earth Day network calls Earth Day "the largest secular holiday in the world" and estimates that about a billion people worldwide celebrate. But to put that in context, there are about 7.5 billion people in the world, and the music video for "Despacito" had been viewed about 5 billion times as of April 5, although many of those views are almost certainly repeats.
Proponents say the holiday raises awareness of environmental issues and encourages people to think about their own environmental impact. That translates to voter support for environmental initiatives and motivates people to adopt Earth-friendly habits.
On the other hand, it's not clear how well one-day events translate into long-term public engagement and changes of habit. Some of the most effective Earth Day initiatives focus on educating young children, who are more likely to adopt environmentally-conscious habits based on Earth Day messages and activities, and on encouraging adults to take direct action like donating to nonprofit organizations that support conservation and calling their representatives to advocate for environmental legislation. With the EPA now actively rolling back regulations on air pollution and other kinds of environmental impact, that component of the holiday may prove especially relevant this year.
"I am hopeful that this Earth Day Google Doodle will live as a reminder for people across the globe that there is still so much in the world worth fighting for," said Goodall in a statement accompanying today's Google Doodle. "With all of us working together, I am hopeful that it is not too late to turn things around, if we all do our part for this beautiful planet."
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