Half a century after it started, the Earth Day movement is still as strong as ever.
In 1969, the ocean off the coast of Santa Barbara was thick with a layer of black, tarry oil. Thanks to a spill by petroleum corporation Union Oil, it was no longer recognizable as the perfect vacation destination it had been just the year before, with a spacious sandy coastline and bright blue sea. And people were angry. At the time, with dead birds, fish, and mammals everywhere, it was the worst instance of an oil spill the country had ever seen.
One eyewitness, Paul Relis (now an author and environmentalist) called it “heavy, black soup,” when describing the event to Pacific Standard in 2017. “I remember looking straight down into this huge upwelling of black out of the ocean,” he added.
“And I just instantly thought, this is going to change the world.” And in a way, it did. The spill was one contributing factor to the creation of the first Earth Day, which took place the following year, in 1970.
Now, Earth Day is often seen by many corporations as a chance to indulge in a bit of greenwashing. Case in point: in 2021, ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest publicly traded international oil companies (which was responsible for its own devastating oil spill off the coast of Alaska in 1989), released a video stating that its employees “work tirelessly to reduce emissions and move toward a lower-carbon future.” Go figure.
But back in 1970, Earth Day was, at its core, a protest against environmental destruction, which eventually led to the formulation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Today, its spirit lives on, not in the greenwashing social media posts of polluting corporations, but in activists, organizers, and communities.
If you want to get involved in Earth Day 2023’s events, which will take place on and around April 22, here are three options that capture the rebellious activist spirit of the first-ever Earth Day more than 50 years ago. (And if none of these are near you, you can find more information about local events on the Earth Day website.)
In Love and Rage, Boston
On April 21, the day before Earth Day 2023, Extinction Rebellion Boston has organized a rally against new fossil fuel infrastructure, which will start at Boston City Hall and march all the way to the State House.
“The International Panel on Climate Change makes it clear, fossil fuels have to go to go if we want to prevent the worst effects of climate change,” states Extinction Rebellion. “Yet the federal government recently approved the Willow Project in Alaska, one of the largest of its kind on US soil, and Massachusetts continues to allow new fossil fuel projects and gas hookups.”
While it’s a serious event, with speakers from various organizations set to talk at the rally, the group is also eager to state it will be a family-friendly party too.
The Big One, London
In the U.K., Extinction Rebellion has also been busy planning some major protests for this year’s Earth Day weekend. Joined by environmental organizations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, the group’s action, which is set to take place for four days, will be staged outside Westminster and the Houses of Parliament in London. There we will be talks from experts, art, music, and more.
“Every single person makes us collectively more powerful, and makes our voices harder for the Government to ignore,” notes the group. “Just imagine what thousands of us working together could do. We can make this the biggest climate protest ever held in the UK – something that is talked about for generations. We can bring about change. We can turn the tide. But first, we need to show up.”
Pledge to Our Keiki Dive, Hawaii
Kanu Hawaii, a movement dedicated to the protection and preservation of Hawaii, has organized an attempt at the world’s largest dive cleanup for Earth Day 2023.
Organized together with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors and many local dive shops across the state, Kanu Hawaii’s dive will take place in honor of the Pledge to Our Keiki, a pledge taken by students and local schools to take care of Hawaii’s natural environment.
“From our elders, we have learned we are part of the environment, not above it. The life, lands, and waters are more than just our surroundings, they are our family,” the pledge reads. “From our children, we will learn that Hawai‘i is not inherited from our ancestors but borrowed from our future generations.”
Related on Ethos: