Reinvigorating Earth Day

The genesis of environmental studies as a prevalent academic major occurred during the massive social movement that we deem environmentalism, reaching its highest point in about 1970. As a major, environmental studies prepares students to address issues under the broad umbrella of the environmental movement. While the origins of the environmental studies major distinguish the academic field, it is not unique in its intention to prepare students to become active in social movements. Why, then, is the environmental studies senior seminar so different from the traditional, writing-intensive capstone experience?

Academic writing is an avenue for advancement toward the goal of becoming valuable, informed and compassionate parts of social justice movements. However, because of the intersectionality involved in all environmental issues, the environmental studies department at Macalester has chosen to immerse its student in action-based group capstones. Seniors are presented with a problem and are challenged to create their own solutions, drawing on knowledge they have accumulated through their study in the department. This year, students in the Environmental Studies senior seminar were tasked with reinvigorating Earth Day. At the center of our capstone is the shared responsibility to make this day relevant again in the 21st century. The larger goal of this project is to reflect upon the ways in which we may bring new life to the environmental movement as a whole.

To provide some context for our project, Earth Day has lost a lot of steam since the inaugural event back in 1970. The environmental movement has unfortunately followed a similar trajectory. Millions of people participated in the first Earth Day, and thousands of events throughout the country brought people of many backgrounds together to work toward improving their communities. In the 1970s, real and indisputable change in environmental thought and policy occurred throughout the United States. Now, how many parallels exist between your memories of earth day and this description?

It appears to us that the environmental movement has reached a certain level of stagnation. The movement and the day no longer act as lightning rods for people to join together in search of solutions to local and global environmental issues. Instead, the environmental movement has become increasingly exclusive, often alienating and underserving many groups. Considering the immediacy and magnitude of today’s environmental issues, this disconnect is not something we can afford. The environmental movement is not, and has never been, an effort to protect nature or the environment exclusively. Environmental issues are human issues, issues of health, sovereignty, security of food and water, issues of peace and issues of equity. Environmental injustices are human rights violations. It is past time that the environmental movement evolves to reflect the gravity of the issues it claims.

Keeping our broader goals in mind, the immediate goal of our capstone remains: to reinvigorate Earth Day. We will start the week of Earth Day on Tuesday, April 22nd with a celebration featuring Keynote Speaker and Sierra Club organizer Karen Monahan. A host of events will follow over the course of the week, including workshops on subjects from community organizing, to cooking, to sweater reclamation. A green networking event, including organizations and businesses with an environmental focus will be held for all students on Wednesday, taking place alongside the presentation of “Earth Talks”, inspired by the ever-present TED talks. A participatory art project will be created on Wednesday as well inside and outside of the art commons. On Friday, we will host a time for reflection during a community potluck. We have high hopes for a reinvigorated Earth Day in 2014, and we hope that you will join us in working toward this goal. Please visit our website at, or see our posters around campus for event times and locations.