Not quite as catchy as Earth Day, but you get the idea. World Environment Day (WED), which I’ve never heard of either, began in 1972, two years after the birth of Earth Day. It’s sponsored by the UN, and hosted by a different city every year. This year, it’s Wellington, New Zealand, a country that’s pledged a carbon-neutral future.
Unlike Earth Day, WED picks a different theme every year (this year it’s “Kick the [Carbon] Habit”), and UN dignitaries, heads of state, and environmental ministers are supposed to make statements about their plans to care for the earth. Otherwise, the events look pretty similar—celebrations, volunteer events, speeches, etc.
But their origins are very different. Earth Day launched in the US in 1970, a time before major environmental legislation like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act had really kicked in, a time when rivers were catching fire because they were so polluted. A democratic senator from Wisconsin dreamed it up after visiting an oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA (I’ve been on those beaches and you can still spot little blobs of oil). Gaylord Nelson died in 2005, but in 1980 he wrote that he had no idea the day would draw 20 million Americans out to pick up trash, clean up creeks, and learn about recycling. Today, of course, the event still draws millions and is organized by a large nonprofit with other year-round programs.
Not a bad thing to have two days focused on the environment. The more, the merrier. But couldn’t we also spread that focus out throughout the year?