Earth Day 2023 – ‘For Peace and Planet’
For Earth Day this year, The Peace Museum took part in Art Fund’s The Wild Escape Project, which saw primary school age children from across the country create artworks inspired by animals from within museum collections, and imagine a natural habitat for them. The project also draws attention to the issues of climate change and habitat loss in the UK.
As part of our education sessions for the project, we shared examples of where peace activism and concern for the environment cross over within our collection. In this month’s blog post, we wanted to explore these links in more depth, and the connections between peace and environmental activism throughout recent history.
The history of Earth Day itself is entangled with the history of anti-war activism in the USA. The first Earth Day was the idea of Wisconsin Democratic Party Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970, who was inspired by the momentum of the student anti-war movement. Hoping to harness the energy of the US student population, he joined forces with a Republican Congressman and recruited a young activist called Denis Hayes to organize teach-ins on campuses. After announcing that the 22nd of April 1970 would be the first Earth Day, the event became hugely popular, with 10% of the US population at the time taking part in protests, rallies, and other events. Hayes had proven that this was not just an issue important to students, but to people across the country, and the expansion of the day’s activities across the world over the following years proved that it had global appeal as well.
It is not just the tactics used by peace activists and environmental activists that tie these two groups together though; in fact, many of their goals are closely connected. There are numerous examples of this crossover within our collection, including in this banner by Thalia Campbell. Women for Life on Earth was a group founded in 1981, which came together in reaction to growing concerns around nuclear weaponry and waste, and they organised the original march from Cardiff to RAF Greenham Common later that year. Their name reflected one of their main concerns: that nuclear war and the waste it produced would destroy the planet.
At the same time, environmental activists were drawing focus to some of the same issues. In 1982, Greenpeace activists were photographed putting themselves between the sea and barrels of toxic waste being dumped off ships in the Atlantic Ocean. The attention that this campaign brought to the issue of nuclear waste disposal at sea eventually contributed to an international agreement banning the practice in 1996, which was signed by 37 countries. Although nuclear power and waste disposal remains a contentious issue within both peace activism and environmental activism, with some arguing that it is a more sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, it has also often been a uniting issue.
These badges from our collection show some more examples of the environmentally conscious messaging used by peace activists – many of these came from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the UK.
In addition to examples of connections between grassroots activities, ties between specific peace activists and political parties are also evidenced in our collection. Amongst the museum’s extensive collection of drawings and paintings by peace activist and artist Maggie Glover, who documented several decades of peace activism through her work, are a number of depictions of Green Party Conferences and AGMs. The founding of Green Parties around the world was in part due to the rise of anti-nuclear movements in the 1970s, with opposition to nuclear weaponry and choosing peaceful negotiations over war forming key parts of many of their original manifestos. Glover’s choice to document these meetings shows that she considered them a part of peace history, and indeed on the banner behind the speaker in this particular image, the text reads “People. Ecology. Green. Balance & Harmony”.
In recent years, The Peace Museum has been collecting objects related to contemporary environmental activism, as part of a programme to expand the range of stories that we tell, and who we represent as a museum. This placard was made by Pippa Chapman, and used at a climate protest. In the same way as many activists in the 1980s, people today are drawing attention to the environmental threats to the planet and to human life. Earth Day this year saw the group Extinction Rebellion organise a peaceful protest and ‘die-in’ in London, with more than 200 organisations joining them to take part.