Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary

Editor’s Note: Items listed in this article are as they appeared in our print edition. Due to the ongoing Stay-At-Home orders by Governor Holcomb to combat the COVID-19 crisis, events and celebrations mentioned within the article have been tentatively rescheduled for July 18.

The inspiration for Earth Day came from some unexpected sources. The first Earth Day was organized by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin in 1970 after a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara wreaked havoc on the ecosystem. What he was truly inspired by, though, was the passion of the anti-war protests taking place across the country, especially among students. He wanted to harness that energy, and decided to recruit the help of a few student organizers. As a result, 10 percent of America’s population—20 million people—participated in the protests and marches Nelson envisioned. Indianapolis officially joined in the celebration in 1990, making it a local annual event.

Let’s address the elephant in the room: Indiana has a not-great track record with environmentalism. In U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of states, Indiana trudges in at 48th place for “natural environment,” which includes air and water quality and pollution.

Not everyone agrees global warming is even happening. Just 67 percent of Marion County residents are convinced, the same as the national average, according to a 2019 Yale University study.

So Earth Day Indiana will be welcoming of the “Earth-curious.” That’s what Greg Ziesemer, the new head of Earth Day Indiana, calls people who aren’t totally up to speed on environmental issues, but want to learn more. Even if you’ve never gotten around to signing up for recycling service at home, or you can’t exactly define the greenhouse effect, don’t shy away from the April 25 festival—come get inspired at White River State Park.

Ziesemer wants to tap into the energy of the moment. As more people are agreeing on the existence of climate change—whether manmade or not—it has become an inescapable aspect of our national discourse. Earth Day Indiana’s executive director aims to seize on that timeliness and rejuvenate the festival, making it a more interactive experience. “I want it to be more than just, show up, hear a band or two, pick up a brochure, take it home, and recycle it,” says Ziesemer. He believes that the more engaged the attendees are—especially the younger folks—the more likely they are to actually act on the lessons and new lifestyle habits they’re exposed to.

Speaking of the youth … The festival will have a host of new events catered specifically to them. Kids can see their peers present research they did through the Eco-Science Challenge, sponsored by Earth Charter Indiana, whose mission is partly to educate young people about ways to lead a more sustainable life. Or they can learn about aboriginal hunting-and-gathering traditions with White Pine Wilderness Academy, which teaches people how to live sustainably through indigenous and Native American ways.

They might even be inspired to start their own backyard vegetable patch. Legacy Taste of the Garden, an organization founded by family farmers whose roots predate the Civil War, will show people how to garden and live off their own food in an urban environment.

The festival will still have all the traditions people have enjoyed over the years. Expect live music and craft beer from Daredevil Brewing Co., plus vendors selling and informing consumers about alternative energy forms, among other things.

You don’t want to go to a weekend event and get lectured. Neither does Ziesemer. His vision of a more engaging Earth Day focuses on improving the world around us, not getting demoralized by the steady drumbeat of negative news. To him, environmental reform goes beyond politics. “Green trumps red and blue every time,” he says.