Earth Day marks its 51st birthday. How is “Restore Our Earth” planning on making this world a better place?

Text by: Domenico Costantini

The theme for the 51st World Earth Day is ‘Restore Our Earth’.

The emphasis is thus on the harm caused by the acceleration of climate change, as well as the urgent need to address it with appropriate means. Restoring the planet, suffocated by CO2 emissions constantly above the warning levels, is an arduous challenge considering that, to limit global warming to within 1.5 °C, it is now necessary to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030.

Climate change has an effect not just on the climate, but also on human health and the economy, and it exacerbates inequality by putting low-income, indigenous, and black populations on the front lines of environmental disasters and bearing the costs disproportionately to rich countries.

Earth Day 2021 therefore focuses on natural processes, emerging green technologies and research aimed at restoring the world’s ecosystems. It rejects the idea of mitigation and adaptation as the only ways to tackle climate change. Among the goals of the ‘Restore Our Earth’ campaign are reforestation, regenerative agriculture and sustainable food, plastic removal, climate literacy and science for citizens.This is the topicality of a battle for the environment that goes back a long way.

On 28 January 1969, when a dramatic oil spill occurred from platform A of Union Oil in the Dos Cuadras Offshore Oil Field 10 km off the coast of Santa Barbara. The Union Oil spill in Santa Barbara has long been the largest oil spill in US waters, surpassed only by the Deepwater Horizon in 2010 and the Exxon Valdez in 1989. Within ten days, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of crude oil spilled into the sea and onto the beaches of Southern California. The incident had a significant impact on marine wildlife, killing an estimated 3,500 seabirds, as well as dolphins, elephant seals and sea lions. The event had a huge media resonance and provoked the indignation by American public opinion. Thus, it led to the birth of the environmental movement and the creation of the conditions that led to the approval of the first environmental protection laws in the following years.

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In October 1969, during a UNESCO conference in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to celebrate the Earth and the concept of peace. The proposed date was 21 March 1970, the first day of spring. This day dedicated to nature was later enshrined in a proclamation written by McConnell and signed by then UN Secretary-General U Thant. A month later, Democratic Senator and environmentalist Gaylord Nelson proposed the idea of holding a nationwide environmental teach-in on 22 April 1970. Thanks to the contribution of a young activist, Denis Hayes, the event was renamed ‘Earth Day’ and spread throughout the United States. More than 20 million people took to the streets, and the first Earth Day remains the largest single-day protest in human history.

Since 1990, with the creation of the Earth Day Network, the event has taken its current global form with over 180 countries joining in.