What does Earth Day look like in 2017? In a time where atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are above 400 ppm and the U.S. has a president that has claimed climate change is “nonsense” and a “hoax,” there doesn’t seem to be much to celebrate. In fact, two days ago, on Earth Day 2017, protesters in major U.S. cities took to the streets in the thousands to bring awareness to the need for science in policy and everyday life. However, they were not alone in the effort to start conversations about sustainability. Across the pond, and around the world, people were thinking and talking and advocating for our Earth.
Earth Day, celebrated annually on April 22, was born in the United States in 1970. It was a the brain-child of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson who hoped to build on the protest culture of the 1960s and extend that same energy to environmentalism. At its creation, Earth Day transcended party lines; the event was co-chaired by Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey and garnered support from businessmen to farmers. It is even credited with spurring the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the three cornerstone acts of U.S. environmental protection: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, all passed under a Republican president.
Years later, the event surpassed not only political affiliation but also national borders. 1990 marked the first globally-celebrated Earth Day, with 141 countries participating. This set the stage for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Today, Earth Day is the most-celebrated secular holiday in the entire world, receiving recognition from more than 192 countries.
One of these countries is Spain! Málaga had a small, but comprehensive observance, concentrated at its Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC). The event was called “New Economy & Social Innovation (NESI) Market [x13]” and advertised itself as “a sustainable event… [that] uses Art and Responsible Consumption to create and accessible and singular experimental space.” It was a global gathering and I was asked to share my country of origen in order to gauge the scope. In addition to bringing other countries into the conversation, NESI Market [x13] extended the definition of sustainability beyond environmentalism. The program included workshops on creative recycling, but also sustainable fashion, economic stability, disease prevention, and documentaries about living with disabilities. It was Earth Day like I have never experienced. It contained the usual elements of environmentalism and conservation, however it took the dialogue further into to human interactions with the environment. At times when people speak of preservation and environmental science, it is easy to eliminate the human element. However, in reality, humans are part of the environment in a very real, undeniable way. NESI Market [x13] embraced the humanness of Earth Day and forced attendees to see how climate change affects their health and culture in ways they might not anticipate.
I think we need Earth Day now more than ever. We need to remember a time when politicians were not at odds with the scientific community, a time when bipartisanship was possible. We also need celebrations like Málaga’s Earth Day, that view the environment for what it is: a global, intersecting system, where culture and nature cannot be separated. For as much as we deny and ignore it, we are literally all in this together, for better or for worse.