Celebrating 40 Years of Earth Day

“We did not inherit the Earth from our forefathers, but it is on loan to us from our progeny.” That bit of ancient Native American wisdom is by far the most succinctly powerful statement that sums up the essence of Earth Day.

The Beginning
Earth Day was born 40 years ago, on April 22, 1970, when Senator Gaylord Nelson declared that a grass roots movement would push the government to place environmental responsibility on urgent national agenda. A staggering 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day. Perhaps angered by the then-recent devastating oil spill off the Santa Barbara coast, 1 in 10 Americans demonstrated peacefully. Perhaps Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, was still fresh in the nation’s mind. Whatever the reasons, the modern American green movement had formally begun with a huge bang.

Earth Day around the world
Since that day in 1970, the UN encouraged it across the globe. An estimated 184 countries and 500 million people held formal Earth Day celebrations in 2000. People around the world have adapted the Day to their culture and needs. For example, The World Dhammakaya Centre in Thailand is celebrating the Day by gathering more than 100,000 Buddhist monks from 30,000 temples around Thailand in Bangkok to chant. Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous nation, is celebrating its first ever Earth Day this year through community education in the hope of a Green generation. The Spaniards have made it festive – throw in art, music, dance and voila!, Fira per La Terra in Barcelona. This outdoor event has everything from Afro-Cuban dancing and green art to composting and forums on sustainable energy. Even the Kyoto non-signers, USA, China and India, have enthusiastic plans nationwide – youth competitions, tree planting drives, exhibitions, fairs, etc. In Washington, EPA is organizing a huge outdoor educational fair on the National Mall. In Boston, Race against Extinction 5K and Party for the Planet at the Franklin Park Zoo are a few of the many events targeting the young and the not so young.

Earth Day @ Harvard
Harvard, of course, is not to be left behind, especially given its commitment to reducing emissions by 30% below a 2006 baseline by the year 2016, including all new growth. The Office for Sustainability is organizing campus-wide Earth Day activities to raise awareness of the many present day environmental challenges. Here at HBS, the Green Living Program (student group), Green Team (staff group) and HBS Operations have collaborated to bring a whole list of activities that you can get involved in. You could do something as simple as leaving the car behind and biking to campus or as fun as representing your section in a Jeopardy-style Green Quiz Show (for more details on Earth Day events at HBS, refer to the calendar of events). About 1 in 10 Americans participated on that first Earth Day back in 1970. Can we at HBS do better?

What you can do
Ideally, we shouldn’t need Earth Day to remind us of responsible everyday usage of water, energy and other resources. But since we do not live in an ideal world, commit on this Earth Day to make environmental protection a part of your daily life. Take the baby steps. Start by switching off those bathroom lights when you rush out of your apartment at 8:39 a.m. for your first class. Before you trash that takeaway plastic box at the Grille, do you know it can be recycled (provided it is scraped free of food leftovers)? And the next time you print the write-up that a friend emailed you (assuming you belong to the majority whose learning teams have disbanded), ask yourself whether you really need those 1.25″ margins all around. Simply change them to the “narrow” 0.5″ format. I am not even going to mention double-sided printing, as I am assuming you are sensible enough and already do it. These hardly inconvenient measures would make a substantial collective impact.

There are numerous other ways to reduce your environmental footprint like donating unwanted clothing, shoes and other items to Habitat for Humanity (there will be a campus-wide drive at the end of the semester so stay tuned), using your own coffee mugs and water bottles at the Grille, and opting out of bottled water, just to name a few. We are all at HBS on a mission to “make a difference in the world.” And we certainly will make a difference in this world, ideally a positive difference. Let’s collectively try to reduce our environmental impact and instill this behavior in our professional lives after leaving HBS. The idea is to live green, not just on Earth Day, but everyday.

Harika is an RC from Section H, sworn to be Green all her life. She has a thing for old libraries, Brunel’s bridges and Orson Welles’ movies.

“Earth Week” Calendar of Events

Wednesday (4/21/2010)
HBS Green Quiz Show
(RC Section Competition)
Aldrich 110, 3:30-4:30 p.m.

Thursday (4/22/2010)
HBS Sustainability Fair
11a.m.-noon, Spangler Lawn
(Rain location, Grille)

Sustainability Lecture
Professor Rebecca Henderson
1-2 p.m., Aldrich 107
*for HBS only. Requires RSVP.

Film Screening: HOME
2:15-3:45 p.m., Cumnock 102

Keep an eye out for green tips and
fun facts around campus!

Friday (4/23/2010)
Harvard-Wide Sustainability Fair
2 p.m., Memorial Hall Transept (outside Sanders Theatre)

Harvard Green Carpet Awards
3 p.m., Sanders Theatre

Visit green.harvard.edu/earthweek for more information