With a record-breaking 20-something million people pouring out in the streets on April 22, 1970, the inaugural Earth Day was an immediate success, allegedly the largest single-day civic event in human history. Long before the mighty Internet entered the stage, mind you. It took just a few kindred souls, a PR genius or two, and plenty of community spirit to turn it into a day of action to change human behaviour and provoke policy changes.
Good old United States of America were the very epicentre of environmentalism in those remote days, imagine that! The land of the free and the home of the brave was where things were happening at the time, from Rachel Carson’s legendary book, Silent Spring, to that famous NASA photo of the earth from the moon. All eyes were on the Santa Barbara oil spill and the Cuyahoga River fire. The timing was probably right, too. With the Vietnam disaster slowly winding down, the activists, previously busy organising anti-war demonstrations, were on a quest for a new worthy cause. Still, thinking of those days, I feel humbled by the pathos and vigour of the pioneers.
Fast forward to the present and Earth Day is still going strong. Yes, it too has been disrupted by the current pandemics. The 50th anniversary last year did not see hundreds of marching activists. And there are no rallies or demonstrations, no marches or teach-ins this year either.
It is obvious, though, that we are all getting experts at mobilising online. The sheer number of easy-to-access digital events is amazing! I can peek at our planet from above, as an astronaut, courtesy of NASA. I can join the young ones, demanding clean air. Or tune in to my finance peers in the Nordics, ascertaining the urgent message that We Don’t Have Time. At earthday.org I can download a ready-to-go action toolkit, complete with media guidance, instructing me what to post on Twitter or Instagram.
It is almost too easy! Maybe it is just a side effect of the infamous COVID19 languishing, but I can’t help feeling a bit nostalgic for the old-school experience. I miss those catchy homemade slogans, like “The seas are rising and so are we” or “This is what our movement looks like,” accompanied by a real-life rising and movement. Somehow, seeing the online banner “Join the World’s Largest Environmental Movement! Donate!” fails to move me as much, even if it might be more efficient.
Well, maybe next year we will be able to go out there and wave some real banners, hug some trees and fellow activists. Unless we have become too comfortable and detached by then.
 Julien Koenig, the man who came up with the name ‘Earth Day’, was already a legend, having designed one of the greatest advertising campaigns of the 20th century, Volkswagen’s “Think Small”.