The Institute for Intercultural Studies


When John McConnell came up with the idea of Earth Day, during the preparations for the Stockholm Conference on the Environment, Margaret Mead saw immediately that a celebration on the date of the equinox would transcend cultural and geographical barriers. More recently Earth Day has been celebrated in the United States in April, because of the milder weather, but March 20 remains the date of International Earth Day, valid for both the southern hemisphere, where it is the first day of fall, and the northern hemisphere, where it is the first day of spring.

Earth Day On Equinox Celebrated At United Nations With Peace Bell Garden Ceremony Honoring Anthropologist Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead, International Chairman of Earth Day, ringing the Peace Bell at UN Headuarters as part of the ceremony observing "Earth Day". Photo: ©1978 United Nation/Saw Lwin.
Margaret Mead 1978
UNITED NATIONS -- A ceremony marking the original Earth Day, held each year since 1970 on the occasion of the March equinox, will take place at the United Nations Peace Garden in Manhattan from 8 to 9 a.m. on March 20.

The ceremony centers around the pivotal event of the ringing of the United Nations Peace Bell. This year, Mary Catherine Bateson -- daughter of Dr. Margaret Mead, renowned anthropologist who worked as Chair of the United Nations Non Governmental Preparatory Committee for the first conference on global pollution and the environment in 1971 -- will take part in the Peace Bell ceremony.

"In this year, when the United Nations celebrates the volunteer, we look to individuals and communities contributing their efforts and passions to labor for a change of direction" to counter environmental threats such as global climate change, destruction of natural habitat, overfishing the seas and overharvesting the soil, Bateson declared.

"Margaret Mead said, 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world.' Today at the moment of equinox, the weather and the season and the hour vary greatly around the globe, but the skies offer an ever-changing symbol of unity, and the need for balance joins us together as we look ahead."

Mead rang the peace bell three decades ago at a similar ceremony, joined by environmental leaders such as Buckminster Fuller, Ian McHarg, Richard Pough and Rene Dubos. In 1971, with the combined efforts of world organizations like World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Sierra Club and other non-governmental organizations, the United Nations wrote the agenda for the first global environmental conference that considered ways to preserve the very life-systems of our planet. You can read Mead's statement on Earth Day, March 20, 1977 at Earthsite.

Today, the United Nations continues to move forward with its commitment to protect and preserve life on Earth. As Bateson pointed out, "Only a global effort can protect our children yet unborn, so that they too may follow the sun in joy and sorrow, seed time and harvest, scattering and gathering."

For a full text of Bateson's prepared remarks, as well as other information about the ceremony, please contact Earth Society, (212) 832-3659.


by Margaret Mead, EPA Journal Entry, March 1978

Margaret Mead, International Chairman of Earth Day, rang the Peace Bell at UN Headuarters as part of the ceremony observing "Earth Day". Here, Mr. Genichi Akatani, Under-Secretary-General for Public Informatoin, addresses the gathering during the ceremony. Standing next to him is Ms. Margaret Mead. Photo: ©1978 United Nation/Saw Lwin.
Margaret Mead ringing Peace Bell in 1978
Earth Day is the first holy day which transcends all national borders, yet preserves all geographical integrities, spans mountains and oceans and time belts, and yet brings people all over the world into one resonating accord, is devoted to the preservation of the harmony in nature and yet draws upon the triumphs of technology, the measurement of time and instantaneous communication through space.

Earth Day draws on astronomical phenomena in a new way; using the vernal equinox, the time when the Sun crosses the equator making night an day of equal length in all parts of the Earth. To this point in the annual calendar, EARTH DAY attaches no local or divisive set of symbols, no statement of the truth or superiority of one way of life over another.

But the selection of the March equinox makes planetary observance of a shared event possible, and a flag which shows the Earth as seen from space appropriate. The choice has been made of one of two equinoxes, the springtime of one hemisphere, the autumn of the other, making the rhythmic relationship between the two capable of being shared by all the peoples of the Earth, translated into any language, marked on any calendar, destroying no historical calendar, yet transcending them all. Where men have fought over calendrical differences in the past and invested particular days like May Day or Christmas with desperate partisanship, invoking their God with enthusiasms which excluded others, the prayers for EARTH DAY are silence, where there is no confusion of tongues, and the peal of the peace bell ringing around the Earth, as now satellites transform distance into communication.

EARTH DAY celebrates the interdependence within the natural world of all living things, humanity's utter dependence upon Earth, man's only home, and in turn the vulnerability of this Earth of ours to the ravages of irresponsible technological exploitation. It celebrates our long past in which we have learned so much of the ways of the universe, and our long future, if only we apply what we know responsibly and wisely. It celebrates the importance of the air and the oceans to life and to peace. On the blue and white wastes of the picture of Earth from space, there are no boundary lines except those made by water and mountains. Yet in this picture of the Earth, the harsh impersonal structures of world politik disappear; there are no zones of influences, political satellites, international blocs, only people who live in lands, on land, that they cherish.

EARTH DAY is a great idea, well founded in our present scientific knowledge, tied specifically to our solar universe. But the protection of the Earth is also a matter of day-to-day decisions, of how a field is to be fertilized, a dam built, a crop planted, how some technical process is to be used to enrich or deplete the soil. It is a matter of whether the conveniences of the moment are to override provision for our children's future. All this involves decisions, some taken by individuals, some by national governments, some by multinational corporations, and some by the United Nations. Planetary housekeeping is not, as men's work has been said to be, just from sun to sun, but, as has been said, like women's work that is never done. Earth Day lends itself to ceremony, to purple passages of glowing rhetoric, to a catch in the throat and a tear in the eye, easily evoked, but also too easily wiped away.

EARTH DAY uses one of humanity's great discoveries, the discovery of anniversaries by which, throughout time, human beings have kept their sorrows and their joys, their victories, their revelations and their obligations alive, for re-celebration and re-dedication another year, another decade, another century another aeon. But the noblest anniversary, devoted to the vastest enterprise now in our power, the preservation of this planet could easily become an empty observance if our hearts are not in it.

EARTH DAY reminds the people of the world of the continuing care which is vital to Earth's safety.

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Thank you for your interest in the Institute for Intercultural Studies . We encourage you to use this website to connect to the many resources available to answer your inquiry about Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson and their intellectual legacy.  However, The Institute for Intercultural Studies, founded by Margaret Mead in 1944, has closed its doors as of December 31, 2009; no further contact information is available.  For contact about permissions please see the Publishing Permission or Literary Rights section of the website.

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All rights reserved. Mead/Bateson photo ©Fred Roll.