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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

The Other Earth Day

Air Date: Week of April 17, 1998

On April 22nd, people around the world will mark the 28th Earth Day. But what folks probably don't know is that the Earth Day they'll be celebrating on April 22nd is not the only Earth Day, nor was it the first. On March 21, 1970, the spring equinox, Mr. John McConnell organized a celebration he called Earth Day. Occurring just one month before Senator Gaylord Nelson’s more widely- publicized Earth Day, Nelson's event led to the observance we now mark each year. Mr. McConnell's Earth Day also continues to be celebrated, but he is perhaps better-known for designing the Earth Flag. Steve Curwood caught up with Mr. McConnell, who is 83 and lives in New York City, and asked him how he celebrates his Earth Day.

Transcript

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. On April 22nd, people around the world mark the 28th Earth Day. What you probably don't know is that the Earth Day celebrated on April 22nd is not the only Earth Day, nor was it the first. On March 21st, 1970, the vernal equinox, John McConnell organized a celebration he called Earth Day, just one month before Senator Gaylord Nelson's more widely publicized Earth Day, which eventually led to the observance we now mark each year. Mr. McConnell's Earth Day continues to be celebrated, but he is perhaps better known for designing the Earth flag. Recently I caught up with Mr. McConnell, who is 83 and lives in New York City, and I asked him how he celebrates his Earth Day.

McCONNELL: We celebrate it every year at the United Nations on the original day, which is nature's day. The first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. And the way we celebrate it, we ring the peace bell at the United Nations at the very moment spring begins. And every year I invite people to join, each in their own way, in silent prayer, meditation, reflection.

CURWOOD: What do you think of the Earth Day that's celebrated on April 22nd? Is that okay with you or are they missing something?

McCONNELL: The strange thing is that the other date has gotten far more attention. And I think one of the reasons for that was the other celebration was more protest in the beginning. They got lots of publicity because they were burying cars and dumping garbage in corporate carports and things of that kind. And the media is so geared to violence that --

CURWOOD: I'm not sure they would agree that they were violent that first Earth Day.

McCONNELL: No, well I hear again words mean different things to different people. I think it's wonderful what has been done on April 22 for planet Earth. Through the years they've gotten attention. There's been recycling and planting trees, all the things that we talked about in the beginning. So, but I do say that the initial publicity of the 1970 Earth Day on April 22, if you just go back and look at the stories, you will find it was the protests that got publicity, not celebration.

CURWOOD: How did you come up with the idea of the Earth flag?

McCONNELL: When they took the first photos of Earth, they published them in Life magazine. When I saw that I was so excited about it: here's something that could bring the whole human family together. You know, there's a wonderful quote from the space program: we set out to explore space and discovered earth. And here suddenly we were thinking holistically of our whole planet. And so I called up NASA and got a copy of the photo and put it on a dark blue field and made it a flag which is a symbol of responsibility. And when we welcomed the landing of the astronauts on the moon in Central Park, why we had a great big Earth flag and we had thousands of people there, and we had about 500 Earth flags that were distributed. And in fact I have a few of them which are real relics right now.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us. John McConnell first cast Earth Day on March 21st, 1970, and joined us from New York. Thank you, sir.

McCONNELL: Thank you. It's been a pleasure talking to you.

 

 

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