The earliest roots of the Earth Day Network (EDN) can be traced back to 1969, when Democratic U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson and Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich decided to organize a nationwide teach-in on environmentalism. They recruited Denis Hayes, who would later become president and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, to coordinate and implement the first-ever Earth Day celebration on April 22, 1970, the centennial of Vladimir Lenin’s birthday. Author and meteorologist Brian Sussman emphasizes that the selection of that date was no coincidence:
"After careful consideration a name and date for the event were chosen: the inaugural Earth Day would be celebrated April 22, 1970—Russian dictator Vladimir Lenin’s Centennial.
"Environmentalists have always admired Lenin. He was the first disciple of Karl Marx to capture control of a country, and the opening act of his seven-year reign commenced with the abolition of all private property—a Marxist priority. Despite overseeing a bloody civil war, a devastated economy and a citizenry without hope, Lenin made it a priority to implement his signature decree, 'On Land.' In it he declared that all forests, waters, and minerals to be the exclusive property of the state, and he demanded these resources be protected from use by the public and private enterprise. Selling timber or firewood, mining minerals, or diverting water for farming was strictly prohibited."
Ever since that 1970 event, which is widely regarded as the launch point of the modern environmental movement, Earth Day has been celebrated annually on that same date. By EDN's telling, Earth Day is now “the largest secular holiday in the world,” with over a billion people participating in its festivities each year.
In 1994 Nelson, Ehrlich, and Hayes collaborated to formally co-found EDN as an organization that could promote environmental activism on a year-round basis. Dedicated to building “broad-based citizen support for sound, workable and effective environmental and sustainable development policies for all,” this Network strives to help its ideological allies “connect, interact, ... impact their communities, and create positive change in local, national, and global policies.” All told, EDN works with more than 22,000 organizational partners in 192 countries.
While emphasizing environmental issues above all else, EDN's focus commonly extends to other matters as well. Its New York chapter, for instance, became a member organization of the Abolition 2000 nuclear-disarmament coalition. Six months after the 9/11 attacks, EDN president Kathleen Rogers said that while violent terrorism was worthy of Americans' attention, “there is [the] more insidious and pervasive terrorism of poverty, hunger, homelessness, inadequate education and health care, and population growth that remains a daily, mortal threat to the vast majority of the world.”
On Earth Day 2003, EDN launched its “One Million New Voters” (OMNV) campaign, an aggressive voter-registration initiative whose motto was: “If you want to do one thing for the environment, register to vote!” Though EDN denied that it was endorsing any particular candidate for the following year's presidential election, DemocratJohn Kerry attended the 2003 Earth Day events in Boston and vocally supported the OMNV initiative. EDN's co-founder, Denis Hayes, and its president, Kathleen Rogers, were both on hand as well, with Rogers publicly thanking Kerry for his “leadership in environmental stewardship.” Joining EDN in its voter-registration effort were such groups as MoveOn, the NAACP National Voter Fund, and the ACORN affiliate Project Vote. In subsequent election cycles, EDN coordinated similar projects in partnership with the NAACP and the Southwest Voter Registration Project.
Apart from its annual Earth Day festivities, EDN currently administers the following major programs:
* The Building the Climate Movement project seeks to broaden the reach of EDN's environmentalist message by recruiting athletes, musicians and artists to convey it directly to their respective fans. This project also aims to augment the influence of environmentalist dogma by conflating environmentalism with identity-politics movements. For instance, EDN works to “mobilize the U.S.’s growing Latino population” by convening the annual National Latino Congreso and working closely with the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change. The Network also works with the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care to help “coordinate the national faith-based eco-justice movement and connect religious leaders with decision makers in Washington.”
* The Green Economy campaign supports local, state and federal policies that promote a “shift” to a “green,” “post-carbon” economy based on solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. The “unsustainable economic growth” fostered by capitalism, says EDN, has “accelerated consumption of fossil fuels and deforestation” to a point where “our lifestyles ... are exhausting the planet's natural resources and accelerating climate change.”
* The Green Schools/Environmental Education program, conducted in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council and the Clinton Foundation, focuses on “integrating environmental education” into school curricula. Toward that end, EDN provides resources and lesson plans for some thirty-thousand K-12 teachers and school administrators nationwide. Implicit in many of these lessons is the notion that capitalism is inherently destructive to the environment, and that the U.S. routinely turns a blind eye to the needs of poor people around the world while squandering the Earth’s natural resources.
* EDN's National School Lunch Campaign calls for the elimination of junk-food from the meals that are served to children in school each day. The Network seeks to tie this initiative to a number of other political and social issues, as evidenced by its assertion that “children's health and nutrition in the U.S. is in a state of crisis that affects our nation's educational success, job readiness, global competitiveness, the surging cost of healthcare, and environmental sustainability.”
* The Earth Stewardship Program for People of Faith seeks to inject environmental activism into religious congregations nationwide, on the theory that “faith leaders have been a driving force behind the most important and successful social movements” in American history.
* EDN's National Civic Education Project
awards grants to “support teachers and their students from diverse
schools across the country to combine civic and environmental education
inside their classroom with hands-on learning experiences outside the
* The Green Ribbon Schools program is a federal initiative launched by the Obama
administration in 2011 to honor public and private schools that
“demonstrate dramatic gains in both environmental literacy and reducing
their carbon footprint while improving learning conditions.” Ribbon
winners are announced each year during Earth Day celebrations in Washington, DC.|
* The EDN website features an Ecological Footprint Calculator
that asks readers a series of questions about their lifestyles and
then, based on their answers, compares their annual consumption of
natural resources to the consumption patterns of people elsewhere in the
world. Accoding to EDN, the “ecological footprint” of the average
American is nearly 6 times larger than the worldwide per-capita average.
EDN also administers several international programs:
* The Women and the Green Economy Campaign
“promotes women’s leadership in designing and advancing the green
economy” throughout the world, in an effort to address “the scarcity of
women players in bodies that govern and shape our economy, specifically
in approaching global solutions to climate change.”
* The India Program
was launched in 2010 to help schoolteachers in that country
“incorporate environmental education into their classrooms” and thereby
build “a network of environmentally-active youth” who will become “the
next generation of leaders.”
* The Canopy Project
seeks to “protect natural lands and preserve the environment for all
people” by planting trees in impoverished communities around the world,
on the premise that trees “reverse the impacts of land degradation,”
“filter the air,” and “help stave off the effects of climate change.”
Between 2010 and 2013, the Canopy Project planted over 1.5 million trees
in 18 countries.
* The Save Yasuni National Park Project
aims to protect the trees, wildlife, and indigenous populations that
are native to this massive natural preserve in the western Amazon
region. Always with an eye toward preventing climate change, EDN lobbies
to restrict oil exploration and timber extraction in the Park.