The Radicalism of the First Earth Day

Let’s reclaim Earth Day’s original spirit to deepen public engagement and encourage action.

Students gather at the University of Michigan for a 1970 teach-in on the environment. (CC 2.0)

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For climate journalists, Earth Day is a mixed bag: In newsrooms where climate coverage is still siloed — a still too-often occurrence — Earth Day brings a welcome moment of attention. But the day also has become awash in corporate greenwashing and a tendency to oversimplify the climate story. Remembering the spirit of the original Earth Day can help journalists capitalize on moments of public attention, and help audiences and newsrooms consider the power of climate action beyond April 22.

The first Earth Day dates to 1970, amid growing public concerns about pollution. The effort took direct inspiration from a number of other radical counterculture movements happening at the time, including the civil rights movement, anti–Vietnam War protests, and second-wave feminism. Around 20 million Americans, a tenth of the US population at the time, participated in demonstrations on April 22 — a scope nearly unimaginable today.

The mobilization worked. Bedrock environmental legislation like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act came about in the wake of these demonstrations. The EPA’s website credits the first Earth Day as a direct influence in helping to establish the agency, which was founded in December 1970.

Today, the original radicalism of Earth Day seems a distant memory. “Earth Day is so tame nowadays,” Adam Rome, the author of The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation, told Teen Vogue in 2020. The original Earth Day, Rome said, “was a day to ask soul-searching questions about why we had environmental problems.” For journalists, modern-day Earth Day brings inboxes filled with press releases from companies asking for coverage of their various “green” initiatives. Super polluters like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries have all “celebrated” Earth Day.

Ignore all of that. Let’s instead embrace Earth Day for what it offers: a rare moment of wider public attention on the climate crisis. Newsrooms around the world are seizing on the opportunity for ambitious, hard-hitting, solutions-based coverage. Others should emulate them. The original Earth Day showed how widespread awareness can result in real political change.

It’s easy to hate on a day that has become overrun with corporate greenwashing. But directing the public’s attention towards climate and environmental issues is a great idea — the fallacy is the thought that it has to be limited to just one day each year. Preparing both your newsroom and your audience to think about climate beyond April is the first step to enacting lasting change.

From Us

US climate policy press briefing. Join us for a press briefing on the Inflation Reduction Act and its potential impact on US elections. Lori Lodes, Executive Director of Climate Power, and Scott Waldman, White House and climate policy reporter for Politico’s E&E News, will join CCNow’s Executive Director Mark Hertsgaard in conversation. April 25. RSVP.

En español. Our new US elections reporting guide is now available in Spanish. See the guide.

Noteworthy Stories

Coral bleaching. The world is experiencing its fourth ever global coral bleaching event and the second such event in the last decade, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Heat stress from record-breaking ocean temperatures is causing the phenomenon in coral reefs in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. By Evan Bush at NBC News…

  • See’s monthly temperature tracker for the world’s oceans.

Climate disinformation. Increasingly sophisticated fossil fuel industry PR campaigns are making climate disinformation more difficult for journalists and the public to spot. This explainer looks at five of the industry’s go-to disinformation tactics. By Amy Westervelt and Kyle Pope at the Guardian…

Power struggle. The town of Colstrip in rural southeastern Montana produces coal for the local power plant that supplies electricity to West Coast cities like Portland and Seattle. Locals are worried about their livelihoods and the town’s future. As the nation transitions to clean energy, what do big cities owe these small towns and the people who work in them? By Sammy Roth at the Los Angeles Times…

Climate migrants. Hurricanes, storms, and wildfires are forcing Americans to leave their homes. CBS News correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti, author of Before It’s Gone: Stories from the Front Lines of Climate Change in Small-Town America, talks about how American towns can become more climate resilient. Watch at Amanpour &  Co…

Recycling deception. The plastics industry faces charges of misleading the public about the feasibility of plastic recycling when nearly all of it ends up in a landfill or burned. Plastic production is expected to triple by 2050, when there is forecast to be more plastic by weight than fish in the ocean. By Ben Tracy at CBS News…

Earth Day Inspiration

Here are some ideas for reporting during Earth Day and Earth Week, which runs April 22-26, 2024.

  • Create an Earth Day explainer as the BBC did or point to local Earth Day activities point to local Earth Day activities as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did.
  • Educate audiences on this year’s Earth Day theme, “planet vs. plastics,” and localize it, as WBAY-TV 2 did in Green Bay, Wis.
  • Explain how life on Earth has changed since the first Earth Day in 1970, as Scientific American did (via PBS NewsHour).
  • Show people in action trying to help animals threatened by climate change, as CBS News is doing as part of its “Protecting Life on Earth” series.
  • Report on climate progress locally, like The Arizona Republic.

Check out Climate Central’s new resource for journalists, “Earth Day: Fastest-Warming Cities and Record Clean Investment,” and report the story locally in the US.


Climate questions. Did you know that Americans are primarily interested in learning about climate solutions? That’s according to a new Yale Program on Climate Change study that examines what Americans want to know about climate change.

Transition minerals. Mongabay held a webinar on covering transition minerals, such as cobalt and nickel, that are used for technology like electric vehicles and renewable energy infrastructure. Watch video.

SEJ rewind. If you missed the Society of Environmental Journalists’ annual conference earlier this month, check out the write-ups and audio recordings of various panels.


Earth Day events. Youth activists are planning protests in hundreds of US cities to demand politicians, universities, and fossil fuel companies take climate action.

  • April 19: Fridays For Future USA will lead a Day of Climate Action in solidarity with actions being organized in hundreds of cities around the world.
  • April 22: The Sunrise Movement is holding dozens of Earth Day Teach-Ins at congressional offices and other locations to press for a national climate emergency declaration.
  • April 22:  Student organizers with the Campus Climate Network will lead Reclaim Earth Day actions on more than 100 college campuses, demanding that universities cut ties with the fossil fuel industry.
  • Contact Cassidy DiPaola ( to be connected with local organizers for the above events.
  • See an Earth Day events map for actions planned in the US and around the world.

Climate journalism. The International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, will livestream an event, “Overruled! The fight against climate deception and obstruction, from investigative journalism to the courtroom.” April 20. RSVP. An additional panel, “The investigative agenda for climate change journalism: tracking the fossil fuel industry,” will also be held on April 20. RSVP.

Climate adaptation. The Pulitzer Center is hosting an environmental reporting webinar on covering climate adaptation in vulnerable communities globally. April 23. RSVP.

Political action. Guardian Live will host a livestream with climate scientist Michael Mann to discuss “the political action we need to save and shape our future.” May 15. RSVP.

Rooftop solar incentives. There are federal, state, and local incentives for installing rooftop solar. Dr. Severin Borenstein, University of California, Berkeley, will be available for journalists interviews on May 15. Register.

Via Social

The number of Americans who say that global warming is happening right now outnumber those who don’t by nearly five to one (72% versus 16%). If only members of Congress reflected their constituents.

Check out CCNow’s new Instagram carousel or read this week’s Climate on the Ballot newsletter on helping audiences better understand climate disinformation. 

Jobs, Etc.

Jobs. CBS is hiring a meteorologist (NYC). MLive seeks an environmental reporter (remote, travel in Michigan required). S&P Global is hiring a reporter, renewable energy and climate (DC & Houston, Tex.). The Washington Post is recruiting a climate and environment photo assignment editor (DC). Wired is looking for an associate director of social media (NYC).

Climate workshop. The Dart Center Europe and City University of London are accepting applications for the July 3-5 London Workshop: “Best Practices for Reporting on the Environment and Changing Climate,” which will focus on the emotional and psychological effects of covering the climate crisis and environment. Apply by May 20.