Things have changed since the 1970s. Communication is increasingly electronic. War is protested online. Petitions are e-signed. "Environmental action" entails throwing a newspaper in a recycling bin instead of in the trash. Earth Day is no different: You won't find many street riots at this year's Earth Day, thankfully. But you also won't find the electric atmosphere of 1970.
In the 21st century, "conservation" has become "the environment," and world governments are well aware of the issues at hand. Instead of focusing on protecting parks and eliminating pesticides in our food, the greater focus is on saving the future of the planet by curbing global warming, which could wipe out life as we know it.
Earth Day is a huge event. Major cities all over the world -- not just those in the United States and Canada -- host rallies, speeches, volunteer efforts like planting trees and cleaning up parks, and demonstrations at museums for everyone to take part in. Earth Day isn't just a day; it's a whole week, just in case people can't get out of work on April 22. What started in 1970 with an amazing 20 million people swelled to 200 million in 1990 and up to 500 million post-2000. The budget has expanded along with the number of attendees, now measuring well into the millions of dollars.
And along with big budgets comes big business. Saving the environment has become a consumer craze, and at a 21st century Earth Day, you'll find all sorts of "green" products available for purchase and free trial. Care for a snack? Try the chocolate bar that comes in recyclable packaging. Or maybe pick up a package of sustainable wood-fiber-filled baby diapers, or a no-animal-testing sunscreen, nontoxic spray cleaner, an entry form for a Prius giveaway or a cloth grocery bag for your shopping.
The feeling of Earth Day may have changed in the last 40 years, but the motivation is still the same: To get legislators and civilians alike to take action against environmental destruction. This year, when you attend an Earth Day celebration in your area, just remember to bring your grocery tote -- there probably won't be many plastic bags available for carrying your stuff.