Lesson of the Day: ‘50 Years of Earth Day: What’s Better Today, and What’s Worse’

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Lesson of the Day: ‘50 Years of Earth Day: What’s Better Today, and What’s Worse’

In this lesson, you will learn what’s gotten better and what’s gotten worse in the five decades since millions of people marched to demand a cleaner, healthier environment. In a Going Further activity, you will consider what the focus of the environmental agenda should be in future decades.

What do you know about Earth Day? Have you ever celebrated or participated in it?

This week, the world marks the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day — which helped shape the modern global environmental movement.

The featured article spotlights 10 big environmental victories — and 10 big failures — from the past half-century. What positive and negative changes do you think might be included in the article:

  • Name two things you think have gotten better.

  • Name two things you think have gotten worse,

(For more on the history of Earth Day, you can read how The Times covered the very first celebration here or you can visit Earthday.org.)

Read the article’s short introduction and then choose TWO environmental victories (in light green), and TWO environmental failures (in light red) to read in full. Afterward, respond to the following questions:

1. Which topics did you did select and why?

2. What did you learn from the sections your read? Give three details, facts or statistics that were interesting, intriguing or provocative.

3. Of the two victories you read about, which one do you think is most significant and why? What were the primary factors that led to the environmental improvement?

4. Of the two failures you read about, which one do you think is most significant and why? What were the primary factors that led to the environmental decline?

5. What questions about Earth Day and the environment do you still have after reading the article?

6. How did the article change how you view Earth Day and the environmental movement it helped to spawn? Does it make you more or less optimistic about the health of our planet? The possibilities for change?

Choose one of the following activities:

1) Share your opinion.

  • How do you celebrate Earth Day? What, if anything, are you or your family, friends, school or community doing to commemorate this year?

  • Do you think Earth Day is still meaningful 50 years after the first celebration? Does the day help people learn more about the environment, reflect on their behaviors and promote policy changes?

  • How concerned are you about the environment? What do you think are the biggest problems facing the Earth today? How do you try to do your part to protect the environment?

  • If you could wave a magic wand and make your environmental dreams come true, what would they be, and why?

  • After reading the article, are you more likely to participate in Earth Day in the future?

2.) Help set the Earth Day agenda.

In “Earth Day Message to Leaders: After Coronavirus, Rebuild Wisely,” Somini Sengupta writes:

Activists and scientists worldwide, mostly prevented from demonstrating publicly because of the coronavirus pandemic, marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with online events on Wednesday, and their message was largely one of warning: When this health crisis passes, world leaders must rebuild the global economy on a healthier, more sustainable track.

That was highlighted by an influential scientific body, the World Meteorological Organization, which forecast that the pandemic would drive down global greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent this year, the biggest yearly decline in planet-warming carbon dioxide since the Second World War. But the group said that would be nowhere near the reductions needed to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.

The agency went on to caution that, while the short-term reductions are largely a result of the sharp decline in transportation and industrial energy production, emissions are likely to rise in the coming years unless world leaders take swift action to address climate change.

Do you agree with this message for the 50th Earth Day celebration? What do you think should be the focus of the environmental agenda for the next 5, 10 or 50 years? Are there environmental issues you think are not getting enough attention?