Last year as we were gearing up for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the world shut down. At the Smithsonian, we had Earth Optimism-inspired events planned across most of our museums, and the second Earth Optimism Summit, a three-day monumental convening of thought-leaders and changemakers from around the globe, was just a matter of weeks away. And then, in a moment of tremendous uncertainty, it was canceled.
But despite it all, we found a blessing in disguise. Of course, we panicked like everyone else for our families, friends, ourselves, and our global community. We even panicked about how we could migrate the event we had been planning for nearly a year into a digital experience. Still, that shift gave us something we didn’t think was attainable – a genuinely global convening.
The foundation behind the Earth Optimism Summit is to bring people together to share their ideas and solutions for the planet. It’s a networking opportunity like no other conference provides. It breaks down the silos that prevent field biologists from conversing with sustainable designers or social scientists from collaborating with innovators in renewable energy. You never know what problems you can solve when you work with people from a vastly different discipline who still share your common goal – the design of the Earth Optimism Summit focuses on constructing those bridges to fruitful conversations.
Although we had people registered from different countries and various fields, many were from the US and Washington, D.C., a city with a dense concentration of universities and NGOs. When we figured out a plan for moving the event to a live stream of the various sessions through video call-ins, our attendee demographics changed exponentially.
From the Tierra del Fuego at the farthest end of South America to Kamchatka Krai on Russia’s Pacific seaboard, people in more than 170 countries and on nearly every continent watched the stories and conversations from the 2020 Earth Optimism Summit (the researchers in Antarctica might have been busy over the three days of our live stream, we understand). Including the views of the event, the social media buzz around it, and our press hits, we reached almost half a billion people! When the world was mourning and frightened for the future, they tuned in to find a spark of hope.
Now, if you had asked me in March of 2020 if I thought people would be interested in an event focused on solutions to climate change and the biodiversity crisis during a global pandemic, I actually would have said yes without hesitation (and I have proof that I did!). However, I never would have guessed that it would be that much of a draw that we would end up spreading our message of hope and positive storytelling as far and wide as we did.
This year, I hope that Earth Day spreads hope and optimism across the world once again. Our planet is in crisis, but it’s not time to give up. Let’s take Earth Day to celebrate what is working and the many successes in conservation and climate. It’s how we can inspire those paralyzed by the constant doom and gloom narrative to act and join the movement to strive for the changes that we still need to make. And let’s make this new, even-more-digital-than-before time we are in an opportunity to create a global, online conversation and remind our fellow citizens of planet Earth that there are so many things both worth celebrating and fighting for.
Join Earth Optimism this #EarthDay and celebrate with the Smithsonian and our partners as we spotlight what’s working in the fight to save our favorite planet – Earth! This year, there are over 20 events throughout Earth Month, covering topics from community-led conservation to the materials revolution. Register ahead of time to join in Q+As with the event speakers, but almost all of the events will be available to watch on-demand afterward. We also invite you to join the global conversation and share your own ideas, solutions, and stories across social media with #EarthOptimism.