How Earth Day celebrations (and grocery-bag artists) got started

Regardless of whether you're planning to hang with Leonardo DiCaprio this Saturday to celebrate the three-decade anniversary of Earth Day (he's hosting the Washington, D.C., Earth Day rally), there are plenty of ways for you to pitch in to help increase environmental awareness.

One easy idea for young students is the Earth Day Groceries Project, one of the oldest and largest educational activities coordinated on the Internet.

First, ask a manager at a local grocery store if you can borrow enough large paper bags so that each student at your school can decorate one. Once the young artists have transformed the bags with environmental messages, pictures of the earth, and the name of their school, the store uses them to pack groceries for happy and amazed shoppers on Earth Day.

Last year, thousands of students from nearly 1,200 schools decorated some 400,000 bags. For more information on this activity, check out

Another idea for students is to have them sign an Earth Day pledge for the year ("I will turn off the lights when I leave the room," or "I will turn off the water while brushing my teeth.") Have everyone write their promises on cut-out leaves, and place them on either a painted tree poster or a 3-D treelike structure. For more ideas, check out At that site you can also look for events happening in your area.

Former Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D) of Wisconsin founded the first Earth Day in 1970. At that time, the environment was not on the national political agenda, so no one was giving it much attention. Beginning in 1963, Mr. Nelson's first attempts to push the environment into the national limelight flopped. But in 1969, new inspiration came from anti-Vietnam War teach-ins on college campuses. In September of that year, he announced in a speech in Seattle that there would be a national environmental teach-in in the spring of 1970. The wire services carried the story nationwide. The response was dramatic. An estimated 20 million people participated in demonstrations across the country.

This April 22, the international Earth Day Network, based in Seattle, expects more than 500 million people to participate in Earth Day events worldwide.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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