Earth Day: 50th Anniversary.


The 50th anniversary of Earth Day was destined to be a worldwide celebration.

It still will be – just virtually. 

It was started in the fall of 1969, Denis Hayes, a graduate student at Harvard, snagged a 10-minute meeting with Gaylord Nelson, a United States senator from Wisconsin who had been talking up his idea for a national teach-in about environmentalism.

The visit stretched into a two-hour conversation, and at the end of it Mr. Hayes had a job. He ended up organizing the original Earth Day on April 22, 1970.

Mr. Hayes has participated in many other Earth Day events in the years since, so it should be no surprise that he is chairman emeritus of Earth Day 2020, which has shifted, in the time of coronavirus, to the digital realm. It has also come to focus on another threat to the plaet, climate change, which 50 years ago “was not part of the national discussion,” Mr. Hayes said.

In recent days, Mr. Hayes has drawn a connection between the coronavirus and climate change, and the failure of the federal government to effectively deal with either one. In an essay in the Seattle Times, he wrote that “Covid-19 robbed us of Earth Day this year. So let’s make Election Day Earth Day.” He urged his readers to get involved in politics and set aside national division. “This November 3,” he wrote, “vote for the Earth.”

Under social distancing restrictions in place around the world to fight the spread of coronavirus, the millions of people who were expected to fill parks, stadiums, universities and plazas around the world Wednesday to mark the annual day devoted to environmental protection will instead rally online.


“Amid the recent outbreak, we encourage people to rise up but to do so safely and responsibly – in many cases, that means using our voices to drive action online rather than in person,” Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network, said in a news release.

There are many ways people can participate: protesting virtually; creating a poster and sharing it on social media with hashtags like #EarthDayNetwork; attending a virtual presentation organized by students, universities and other leaders; watching a performance; playing trivia games; and more.

The Jesuit Catholic University, and many others across the nation, will join Interfaith Power and Light for a “Nationwide Climate Prayer” from April 20-25 on Facebook.

Phillip Thompson, organizer for Seattle University’s Earth Month, told USA TODAY he’s excited to share an interview with Earth Day co-founder Denis Hayes.

Hayes coordinated the first U.S. Earth Day in 1970 and expanded it internationally in 1990. He is on the board of directors for Earth Day Network and is president of the Bullitt Foundation.

“I think this year is more when we’re aware, and it’s much more time to get serious about how we’re going to be bringing about the changes in the future,” Hayes told USA TODAY.

There are simple ways to do that, he said, including using public transportation, recycling, eating organic and voting for officials who want to help the environment.

It may be difficult for people to feel encouraged and hopeful for the planet amid the coronavirus pandemic, and before that, the horrific fires in Australia and California, Hayes admitted. Don’t lose faith, he said.

“It is depressing,” Hayes said. “But I got a message for you: We’ve not reached the end of the line. We’ve still got time to be able to turn this around before we reach tipping points that do become irreversible.”






Categories News