44 Years of Earth Day… Moving Towards Green Cities

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Front: Denis Hayes, 1970. Source: National Geographic

Yesterday marked the world’s 44th Earth Day. At its heart, Earth Day aims to raise awareness and encourage consciousness about the environmental movement. Today, over 1 billion people celebrate Earth Day. Growing from a national rally of 20 million Americans, Earth Day has become the largest secular international holiday.

This year, the Earth Day Network (EDN) promoted the international holiday under a “Green Cities” campaign: the goal was to decrease climate change emissions while encouraging the growth of “green” urban practices. The EDN is simultaneously aware that while cities emit a large percentage of the emissions that increase global warning, they are also a huge source for potential sustainability projects such as urban gardening, solar energy intake, education, and more. 

Earth Day Celebration in Times Square, NYC, 2014. Source: Earth Day New York

The EDN, established by the first-Earth-Day-pioneer, Denis Hayes, operates with over 22,000 partners in 192 countries to encourage environmental awareness and action. Its far-reaching impact could be felt throughout the month of April as international partners celebrated Earth Day in various ways: in Tanzania, the Green Foundation Trust planted trees in the Mount Meru forest; the Huanghuacheng Great Wall was cleaned up by hikers in Beijing; in the UK, students at the University of Exeter held educational workshops on energy efficiency through the “EnergyWise” project.

At home in the United States, President Barack Obama delivered a proclamation outlining the green initiatives accomplished during his presidency, as well as future national and international sustainability goals:

“…America has increased the electricity it produces from solar energy by more than tenfold, tripled the electricity it generates from wind energy, and brought carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly two decades.”


-President Barack Obama


Students Sweeping up Union  Square in NYC, Earth Day 1970. Source: National Geographic
Students Sweeping up Union Square in NYC, Earth Day 1970. Source: National Geographic

Though we have come a long way since the first Earth Day in 1970, there is a lot of progress to be made. Since that day in history, American citizens have increased the amount of trash they produce daily (from 3.3 pounds on average in 1970 to 4.4 pounds in 2012), yet 46% of this waste is either recycled or used for energy via composting or burning– landfills and incinerators were practically the only option for waste disposal forty years ago. Environmental Science has developed as a major in universities nationwide; on the other hand, old student dorms remain ill-equipped to contain heat during rough winters. And since students swept up Union Square on that first Earth Day in 1970, environmentally-conscious restaurants such as Ngam have popped up in New York’s “hip” East Village.

Urban Gardener in New York City, Earth Day 2014. Source: Earth Day New York

Earth Day has already come and gone, but that does not mean environmental action is postponed until next April. We cannot forget that just one day after the first Earth Day in 1970, the National Mall was flooded with litter; environmentalism is an everyday awareness and recognition of responsibility for one’s actions. If you want to participate in online activism, check out the EDN’s continuing efforts under the Green Cities campaign. Keep making small and simple sustainability practices a daily habit: think about turning off the lights when you leave a room, unplugging your laptop when it’s charged, purchasing less excess items at the grocery store and buying a Brita filter for your fridge instead of Poland Spring bottles! (Also, check out go green cuisine’s Twitter account for a great “green” recipe!)

Have any other simple suggestions? Want to share how you celebrated Earth Day? Please comment below!

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