When Sen. Gaylord Nelson organized the first Earth day on April 22, 1970, nearly 20 million Americans joined the cause, holding rallies and planting trees with the hopes their efforts would inspire federal action.
It worked: In the year that followed, the government created the Environmental Protection Agency and the first version of the Clean Water Act, both of them critical in regulating what goes into our air, water and land.
As the world celebrates the 40th anniversary of Earth Day this April 22, an estimated billion people in nearly 200 countries worldwide will participate in events that celebrate the progress made as well as raise awareness of what more is needed for a cleaner, greener Earth. Though we’ve certainly made progress, there is still ample room for improvement: Seventy million tons of carbon dioxide is still released into the air each day.
Museums around The National Mall and The National Zoo are planning to hold their own celebrations in the coming weeks. Here are some of the highlights (and the best part? All of them are free!)
Saturday, April 17
With complimentary coffee or tea in hand, follow Earth Day Network’s Brenna Holzhauer as she leads visitors through the museum on a tour about the environmental movement and art. Visitors should meet in the F Street Lobby. The tour begins at 1:30 PM.
Thursday, April 22
In the spirit of Sen. Nelson’s desire to prompt political change, four of the best collegiate debate teams will debate on topics in environmental policy and science at the National Museum of Natural History. The debates will take place between 10:30 AM to Noon, and again from 1:30 to 3 PM. During the break, ask about Discover Station activities throughout the museum, which will give visitors hands-on interaction with the earth’s elements.
At the National Museum of the American Indian, hear from two speakers who have made a difference in their communities. Beginning at noon, Luis Gilberto Murillo-Urrutia, the former mayor of Chocó, Colombia known for his “pioneering programs” in sustainable development and protecting the rainforest; and Alicia Rios Hurtado, the vice-president for research and director of the Institute of Biodiversity at the Technological University of Chocó, where she leads research on bio diversity, will speak about their experiences with the environment in their country. The lecture goes until 1:30 PM , but those that can’t make it can watch a live web cast.
(The lecture is in Room 4018, on the fourth floor of the museum).
Saturday, April 24
Help keep the National Zoo’s animals healthy by picking up some of the trash visitors have left behind. Take public transportation (so you don’t waste gas on driving!) to the Zoo and meet at 8 AM in Parking Lot A. There, volunteers will receive trash bag and gloves and be directed to wooded areas of the zoo near the Connecticut Avenue entrance to collect discarded aluminum cans, food wrappers and other litter. The cleanup lasts until 10 a.m., and you’ll get a rare chance to be near the just-waking animals for a full two hours before the zoo opens to the public.
Sunday, April 25
Sponsored by the Earth Day Network, the rally aims to put pressure on Congress to pass a comprehensive climate bill. From 11 AM to 7 PM, attendees will hear from speakers, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson; film director James Cameron; AFL-CIO President, Richard Trumka; Olympic gold medalist Billy Demong; producer Trudie Styler; and author Margaret Atwood, among others. Live music will also be performed by several artists, including Sting, John Legend and The Roots.
And from now on, visitors to several Smithsonian Museums can enjoy bird-friendly organic coffee. The coffee is grown on small, Latin American and African coffee farms whose forest-like habitats, home to many species of birds, would likely face deforestation without economic support. Pick up a cup at the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of American History, the Smithsonian Castle and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, or the National Portrait Gallery cafe. The estimated 1,200 pounds (50,000 cups) the museums plan to brew each month could sustain about 70 acres of these farms each year. The Bird Friendly program which was initiated by Smithsonian scientists based on their fieldwork data in the last two decades is now recognized within the specialty coffee industry as the "gold standard" of shade certification, according to a recent statement.
Tell us what your plans our for Earth Day in the comments area below.