When is the Real Earth Day?
Most people usually think of April 22 as Earth Day, but many celebrate it on the first day of Spring, which, depending on the year, is March 20 or 21. The primary reason for this variance is that there are two claimants of having founded the annual event. One is former Wisconsin Senator, Gaylord Nelson. The other is life long environmental activist, John McConnell. Both first held their Earth Days in 1970, Mr. McConnell with proclamations by San Francisco and other cities in northern California (shortly afterward, the United Nations added its own proclamation), Senator Nelson with a nationwide environmental teach-in. April 22 organizers, according to Carolyn Chase, director of Earth Day Network, are not opposed to the observance, by some, of March 20 as Earth Day. John McConnell, however, says, "The most damaging lie about the environment is th e statement that 'Earth Day is April 22.'"
According to McConnell, the observance of Earth Day on the Spring Equinox is the "centerpiece" of the event. Because of its "unique appeal to people of every creed and culture," he says it is "a powerful natural event that could bring people together in h eart and mind at a special moment and increase determination to pursue peace, justice and the care of Earth."
Ms. Chase argues, however, that "The purpose of Earth Day is not about the day; it's about how you turn people on to something. So, if it's something to turn people on to having a healthy relationship with the environment, I don't care what day they do it ." She says, "I would prefer that there were 365 Earth Days!"
Mr. McConnell tells me that after his Earth Day plans were announced at the November, 1969 UNESCO meeting in San Francisco, two young men approached him, claiming to represent Environmental Teach-In, Inc. (the company which later began sponsoring the Apri l 22 Earth Day.) Mr. McConnell says the men asked him if he would consider moving the event to April 22 that it might coincide with a major event they were planning, which he declined to do. However, Senator Nelson, Denis Hayes and other April 22 organize rs tried to claim they had no knowledge of the former usage of the term when they decided to name their event "Earth Day."
Further adding to the confusion is that while Denis Hayes explains that Julian Koenig, a New York advertising executive, gave him the idea of calling their event "Earth Day," John McConnell says that in a telephone conversation, Sen. Nelson told him a man named Joe Floyd came up with it. Mr. McConnell says he, then, called Mr. Floyd, who said he got the idea from a San Francisco newspaper article about college kids celebrating an Earth Day, which, presumably, was the event Mr. McConnell and his followers had put together.
Although it is easy to document that the city of San Francisco declared Earth Day on March 21, 1970 and that hundreds of people in northern California were involved in the event, nearly every website and newspaper article one finds on the topic refers to April 22, 1970 as the "first" or "original" Earth Day, though, clearly, it was one month afterwards. To this day, despite the overwhelming recognition by most people of April 22 as Earth Day, at the UN, it is still being observed on the first day of Sprin g with various ceremonies and "peace bells" being around the world, which, this year, included an observance on the Mir Space Station.
Mr. McConnell claims this is "historical revisionism," which is politically and financially motivated, citing the annual omission of the March event in newspapers, magazines and national TV and radio, despite his repeated, timely press releases. He also m entions that organizers of the April 22 Earth Day are "amazingly" well funded.
When I asked Ms. Chase about this, she told me that Sen. Nelson has simply been a better organizer and that most contributions to the organization she heads are the results of grassroots efforts by volunteer groups. There are, however, several gigantic gr oups which fund Earth Day on April 22, including the Wilderness Society, the Wilderness Foundation, Earth Day USA and others. Many multi-million dollar corporations contribute heavily to these groups. Combined, organizations which fund April 22 Earth Day activities have an annual budget of over 5 million dollars. McDonalds and other huge corporations promote their activities, too. McConnell's group, by contrast, has a current annual budget of less than 25,000 dollars.
Last week, in a mostly amicable telephone conversation between the two octogenarian gentlemen, Sen. Nelson, while conceding that McConnell was first to use the term "Earth Day," refused to change the name of his event nor move it to March 20, because, acc ording to McConnell, Sen. Nelson explained that "people are used to it." Mr. McConnell complained to me that this is ironic since the need to replace habits which are destructive to the environment is why he started Earth Day in the first place. People ar e used to internal combustion engines, but that's not a very good reason to promote their continued use if one's interest is the preservation of Earth's delicate ecosystem.
Why, then? Are environmentalists too disorganized even to settle on one day for their own celebrations? Or what possible reason could there be for such a frenzied corporate take-over of Earth Day? Why spend all that money just to marginalize John McConne ll? It couldn't be because Henry George is mentioned at Mr. McConnell's website, could it? It would be wrong to think there's some kind of conspiracy against the movement to replace other taxes with land value taxation, wouldn't it? Why, then? What's wro ng with having Earth Day on the first day of Spring?
We hear too often the slogan, "every day is Earth Day," which is true: they're all on Earth and they're all 24 hours long. But, when special focus is called for, why would anyone want us to "make every day Earth Day?" Doesn't that rather defeat the purpo se of having a special day for it? Won't it become meaningless? After you hear your favorite song 200 times a day for a couple of weeks, won't you get tired of it? If you have your favorite meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a few years, won't the t hought of it make you gag? If the idea is unity and focus, having a single day for Earth Day seems like a good idea to me. And, from my investigation into this matter, I can only conclude that Earth Day is the Vernal Equinox and that April 22 is just Apri l 22, unless you're celebrating Vladimir Lenin's birthday.