On April 22, more than 1 billion people in 192 countries are expected to take part in a global day of political and civic action for the Earth.
People will march, plant trees, clean up their cities, parks, beaches and waterways, politicians will announce policies, and corporations will pledge to work toward sustainability — all to mark Earth Day 2019.
Earth Day Network, the organization that leads Earth Day observances worldwide, has designated 2019 to be the year to "Protect Our Species."
According to EDN, the theme was picked to highlight the fact that human activities are directly linked to what environmental journalist Elizabeth Kolbert refers to in her book, "The Sixth Extinction," which describes a mass extinction caused by human activity rather than natural causes.
"The good news is that the rate of extinctions can still be slowed, and many of our declining, threatened and endangered species can still recover if we work together now to build a united global movement of consumers, voters, educators, faith leaders and scientists to demand immediate action,” EDN President Kathleen Rogers told VOA.
Earth Day brings, in general, a greater awareness to environmental concerns.
The Pew Research Center released a report last week that found climate change was the top concern in half the countries it surveyed last year.
At the top of the list was Greece, where 90 percent of those surveyed called it a major threat and only 4 percent did not view climate change as a threat at all. Their concern was shared by residents of South Korea, France, Spain and Mexico, countries that ranked Nos. 2-5, respectively.
The survey also found that concern over climate change has been steadily rising around the world since 2013, when Pew first asked that question. That year, a median of 56 percent in 23 countries said climate change was a major threat.
In the most recent survey, a median of 67 percent in the same countries hold this view. The concern was also the highest among specific demographics — the educated, women and those between the ages of 18 and 26.
The rising awareness, especially among the young, is good news for EDN, which is looking ahead to next year when it marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It has already launched several initiatives this year in hopes of seeing results by Earth Day 2020. Among them are:
Earth Challenge 2020
EDN is working with the U.S. State Department and the Woodrow Wilson International Center to engage millions of people around the world to gather more than 1 billion data points in areas including air quality, water quality, biodiversity, pollution and human health.
The "citizen science" volunteers will gather information about their local conditions asking questions such as: What is in my drinking water? How does air quality vary locally? What is the extent of plastics pollution? How are insect populations changing? And is my food supply sustainable?
EDN is working with major tech companies to develop apps where the citizen scientists can upload the data they collect. The apps will also tell users what the information they collect means and offer suggestions on what else they can do to help the environment, Rogers said.
EDN hopes to be able to use the data to leverage public policy decisions and inspire collaborative action worldwide.
The Great Global Cleanup
The initiative will be launched in cities across the United States on Earth Day this year. It will call on volunteers to help pick up pieces of trash from neighborhoods, beaches, rivers, lakes, trails and parks. Using the lessons learned in the U.S., a global effort on Earth Day next year will try to gather millions of volunteers to remove billions of pieces of trash.
One of the most ambitious project connected to the global cleanup is one aimed at cleaning the most polluted rivers in the world: the Ganges, in India. Coordinated by Earth Day India and a local NGO, the first phase will begin in the Himalayas, where two glacier-fed streams meet to form India’s most famous and sacred river.
The cleanup will evolve over the next 15 months through 100 towns and cities, including some of the most densely populated ones such as Kolkota, Varanasi and Patna. It will culminate in the Sunderbans Delta, where the river empties into the Bay of Bengal.
“The project on the Ganges will serve as a lightning rod for many more countries and communities to get involved worldwide," Rogers said.
The Canopy Project
One of EDN's ongoing projects since 2010 has been to plant trees to fight deforestation. EDN focuses on restoring forests in environmentally critical areas such the Amazon rainforest and the Boreal Forest. But it also plans on reforestation of areas degraded by natural disasters such as flooding or fires. The organization estimates it has planted hundreds of millions of trees worldwide since it started.
Rogers says EDN’s goal for the 50th anniversary is to plant 7.8 billion trees, one for every person alive on Earth that year. Although, she says, the latest population forecast is close to 7.6 billion in 2020 “so that’s a bit of a reprieve.”
She explains that the 7.8 billion number is in addition to the reforestation pledges made by governments, corporations and other environmental groups. For example, she said, the government of Pakistan has already declared its intention to plant 1 billion trees. EDN is now in negotiations with Islamabad to plant 1 billion additional trees to meet the 2020 goal.
Since the first Earth Day in 1970, when 20 million Americans banded together to launch the modern environmental movement, governments around the world have passed laws and implemented policies to preserve the Earth.
EDN says as the 50th anniversary of Earth Day approaches, the time is long overdue for a global outpouring of energy, enthusiasm and commitment to create a new environmental paradigm.