Symbols and Flags of Earth Day

The Ecology Flag
Senator Gaylord Nelson
The Earth Flag

To paraphrase a famous Clinton-era campaign slogan, “It’s the Environment, Stupid.”

That could have been the basis for Earth Day as conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1969. Originally created as a teach-in about environmental problems facing Earth, it grew into the basis for the worldwide environmental movement.

Pollution, oil spills, pesticides, sewage, loss of wildlife, over-population, burning of tropical forests, gas guzzling vehicles – all were the norm on April 22, 1970 when some 20 million participants (mostly university students) participated in the national environmental teach-in.

Earth Day has no official flag. But it is widely associated with a familiar symbol- the Earth Flag featuring a NASA photo of the only planet we can call home. It was created in 1969 by peace activist John McConnell, who led the effort by the United Nations to create an Earth Day on the March equinox.

The other flag is the Ecology Flag created by cartoonist Ron Cobb and unveiled on October 25, 1969. Alternate green and white stripes with a green canton, it deliberately echoes the U.S. stars and strips. The main difference is the yellow Theta in the canton. An ancient Greek symbol, the theta was a symbol of death similar to that of the skull and crossbones.

There are some who believe that Earth Day has little impact or has outlived its usefulness. None of the problems highlighted in 1970 have been completely solved, and new ones like global warming have emerged.

Yet according to Wikipedia, Earth Day, is observed by 500 million people in 175 countries. Earth Day is associated with inspiring important habits and public policies that are part of our everyday lives, such as recycling, unleaded gasoline, traffic management, car pooling and water treatment, as well as increased awareness of issues such as climate change.

It’s hard to say on Earth Day that the green movement has achieved lasting success.

I think we can still safely say, “It’s the environment, stupid.”

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