Earth Day: Cut your carbon footprint. Add to A Billion Acts of Green!

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22: This Earth Day, rally behind the world’s largest faiths as they call global citizens to protect the planet and promote stewardship. Every major faith regards the Earth as a gift that must be respected: Whether the action is Christians supporting Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical; Sikhs in Washington, D.C., reminding the faithful of the Earth as the Divine Mother; Jews reflecting on the Book of Genesis; or religious statesman Rajan Zed directing a multi-faith invocation that includes interfaith prayers, the term “environment” spans the religious divides. Earth Day Network, the massive organization that drives environmental movements year-round, recognizes that faith leaders and organizations play a key role in supportive efforts, offering several resources for congregations and an entire section devoted to faith-related, environmental news.


Want evidence of the widespread interest in this theme? An Earth Day rally and concert last Saturday drew thousands to the National Mall, where dignitaries from around the world watched performances by No Doubt, Usher, Mary J. Blige and more. (Read more in USA Today.) Saturday’s event highlighted the connections between poverty and climate change, pointing out how sustainable growth will aid poverty, but continued climate change will inevitably lead to increased poverty worldwide. This year’s Earth Day theme is, “It’s Our Turn to Lead.”


Scholars charting the rise of Earth Day awareness point to the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” as a milestone in public awareness. Then, a massive oil spill near California hit the coast in 1969. Harnessing the youthful passion in anti-war protests, Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson proposed a day for an environmental teach-in—first held on April 22, 1970. (Wikipedia has details.) The event, which followed a similar proposal made at the 1969 UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, attracted 20 million participants, from coast to coast.

In 1990, Earth Day went global, with events taking place in 141 countries. Today, Earth Day Network—founded by the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970—promotes year-round environmental action, by launching campaigns, connecting activists, providing a platform for communication and pushing for changes in global policies. The Earth Day Network currently reaches 192 countries.


This year, President Barack Obama is set to mark Earth Day in the Florida Everglades, where climate change is not only evident but a marked threat to the local economy. With the 21st century witnessing many of the warmest years on record thus far, millions of Americans are aware we’re facing a problem. In his talk, Obama will address the nation’s positive actions—such as cutting carbon pollution and collaborating on a global agreement for emissions cuts.

This summer, the Vatican will go green. Pope Francis is promising to issue a papal encyclical on the environment—thereby making the environment a mandatory topic for Catholic institutions worldwide. One of the highest forms of church teaching, an encyclical is permanently incorporated into the teaching documents of the Catholic Church, and Pope Francis is using this platform to show just how relevant—and necessary—global action now is. (Huffington Post reported.)

Anticipated themes in the encyclical include:

  • Earth as a gift from God
  • Humans as stewards of the earth’s order
  • And, the poor as the most threatened victims of climate change.

In 1997, Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church became the first worldwide Christian leader to call pollution “sinful,” and it’s anticipated that Pope Francis will regard the matter in a similar way. Though the encyclical will be focused on the worldwide Catholic community, the headlines surrounding its release are expected to prompt many other men and women in leadership positions to echo these themes.

In September, Earth Day Network will reveal an in-game experience designed to raise environmental awareness and created with the developers of “Angry Birds.” The in-game experience, called “Champions for Earth,” will be unveiled as world leaders congregate in New York for the United Nations General Assembly meeting.

What can I do? In December, key UN meetings in Paris will present another chance for a global treaty on climate change. As international treaties have consistently stalled or failed over the past 20 years, groups around the world are calling for public efforts to urge the Paris conference to take new actions.

Locally, individuals can take time on Earth Day to clean up their community, change habits, start a community garden or contact elected officials. The possibilities are endless, says Earth Day Network. To change your footprint, check out My Plastic Free Life, for ideas and suggestions of cutting down on the materials that threaten landscapes and environments. (Learn more here.)

And, remember: Earth Day is every day.


Monday through Friday this week, UofM’s Dr. Wayne Baker will post daily ideas in the OurValues project that you can explore with your family. We want you to chime in, too! If you decide to share your own Earth Day-themed ideas this week on Facebook or Twitter, use the #OurKidsEarth hashtag.