In the weeks prior to the first Earth Day in 1970, the Jackson 5 first appeared on American Bandstand and the Beatles broke up; the US lowered the voting age from 21 to 18; the Apollo 13 crew announced, “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here” but later completed a slingshot maneuver around the far side of the moon; and the Soviet Union disposed of Adolph Hitler’s remains. Some of us are old enough to remember the first Earth Days, with their focus on litter, pollution, cars, nuclear power, and recycling to save the planet. Within 20 years, Earth Day became a global event with activities in most countries around the world. 

Environmentalism has grown exponentially since those early days. As the movement grew and deepened, basic tenets of conservation, and including ‘conservation’ itself, were critiqued and refined as the parameters set a century ago were gradually updated for modern times to include the dynamics of power, injustice, and capital, with alternative ways of being in relation to the nature around us. The movement today is made up of countless individuals and groups working at every scale from the neighborhood to the UN. There’s more money for environmental causes than the founders of Earth Day could have ever imagined. Pioneering researcher Dr. Dorceta Taylor recently completed a study (supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation) of nearly $5 billion in green philanthropy over three years. She found that most grant dollars are still awarded to large green organizations doing ‘classic’ conservation work and based in US power centers, to the detriment of environmental justice and climate justice organizations, especially.

So this April 22, let’s consider what each of us can do to fast-track our collective progress toward Earth Day’s goals. Clearly there’s more to it than throwing money at the NGOs that come across your radar. Through learning and strategizing together in networks like BFG, environmental, conservation, and climate and energy grantmakers can work with their peers to be more than the sum of their parts. If you haven’t found a place to do that within BFG’s programs and initiatives, please make an Earth Day commitment to reach out to Lisa Jaguzny this month.

 “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” — Jane Goodall

Judy Hatcher, Executive Director of Biodiversity Funders Group