Today, Wednesday April 22, is the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day. The first question for most of us is: what exactly is Earth Day? Essentially, it’s 24 hours dedicated to environmental awareness. The worldwide event grew from the first Earth Day demonstration in 1970, which was organised by Senator Gaylord Nelson and activist Denis Hayes.
More than 20 million Americans took part, taking to the streets to protest the environmental impact of 150 years of industrial development. Groups called for action against oil spills, air pollution, nuclear power and the extinction of wildlife. It had an important influence on the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passing of the Clean Air Act.
By 1990, Earth Day had gone global, calling attention to environmental issues in 141 countries. Throughout the new millennium, Earth Day had an urgent focus: to tackle climate change denial and put pressure on world leaders to address global warming. As the official Earth Day website describes it: ‘The social and cultural environments we saw in 1970 are rising up again today – a fresh and frustrated generation of young people are refusing to settle for platitudes, instead taking to the streets by the millions to demand a new way forward.’
But the fiftieth year is going to be radically different from all those that preceded it. For 2020, Earth Day is taking place online, and is asking us to ‘flood the digital landscape with global conversations, calls to action, performances, video teach-ins and more’, which can mean anything from sending a tweet to taking part in an online lecture. There are hundreds of digital events taking place across the world, which you can find using a filter on the official site, but the main one is Earth Day Live, a day of speeches and performances from former vice president Al Gore, American explorer Dr Sylvia Earle and actor Zac Efron.
In some ways, it’s the first fully global Earth Day, as the events will be accessible wherever you are (as long as you have good wi-fi). But if you want to know what UK artists have planned, we’ve gathered some of the our favourite virtual Earth Day plans below:
Instead of cancelling its planned events for Earth Day, Somerset House has rejigged them into online interactive workshops. It’ll be addressing the ecological crisis with the help of sustainable fashion designer Bethany Williams, who’ll be running a DIY workshop showing viewers how to make flags from home. There’s also a series of live-streamed panel talks on ethical shopping and design from Fashion Open Studio. And if you were sad to miss the museum’s ‘Mushrooms’ exhibition, you can have a go at a mindful mushroom collage workshop.
It’s getting difficult to keep track of all the living-room concerts being announced, but The Nest Collective has put together a doozy. Its ‘Singing with Nightingales: Earth Day’ YouTube concert has the Pet Shop Boys, Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn and Seth Lakeman on the bill. The whole thing will be hosted by folk singer Sam Lee and streamed live from a wood in Sussex, with speakers and musicians appearing from their homes. Along with musicians, there will be appearances from presenter Chris Packham, actress Lily Cole and poet Simon Armitage. Did we mention the PET SHOP BOYS?
Today the Serpentine will officially launch Back to Earth, an enormous, multi-year project that will bring together sixty artist-led environmental campaigns. Artist Olafur Eliasson will preview his new participatory artwork ‘Earth Perspectives’, which sounds like the most complicated map ever made. Apparently it will encapsulate ‘how maps, space, and the earth itself are human constructs’. Confused? Us too. Find out more here.
Earth Day takes places on Wed Apr 22.
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