Earth Day 2018: Everything you need to know

People around the world will come together this weekend to celebrate the planet and to take action to protect it.

Here’s everything you need to know about Earth Day 2018.

First celebrated in 1970, Earth Day takes place worldwide on April 22.

This year’s event falls on a Sunday.

Various events are held annually on Earth Day across the globe to show support for protecting the environment.

U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin native, is largely credited for organizing the first Earth Day in spring 1970, a time when it was still legal for factories to spew noxious fumes into the air or dump toxic waste into nearby streams. That’s because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency didn’t exist then, and there were no laws to protect the environment.

Nelson recruited Harvard University professor Denis Hayes to coordinate and promote Earth Day nationally. The event was a success.

Twenty million Americans took to the streets on April 22, 1970, demanding action on environmental pollution. That December, Congress authorized the establishment of a new federal agency, the EPA, to ensure environmental protection. The passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and many other landmark environmental laws followed soon after, according to the EPA.

Earth Day went global 20 years later, mobilizing 200 million people in dozens of countries and putting environmental issues on the world stage.

Now, more than 1 billion people in 192 countries are estimated to participate in Earth Day activities every year, according to Earth Day Network, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that organizes the event worldwide.

This year’s Earth Day is dedicated to providing the information and inspiration needed to eventually end plastic pollution, according to Earth Day Network.

Many of us use or encounter plastic every single day, even if we don’t realize it. There’s single-use plastics, such as bags, bottles, plates, utensils and straws. But there are also plastics in our electronics, cars, clothes and paint.

So what happens to all this plastic? Some of it gets recycled. But a lot ends up in landfills or is simply littered as plastic pollution, which gets into our waterways.

Plastic is made to last forever — it cannot biodegrade. Disposed plastic materials can remain in the environment for up to 2,000 years and longer, according to a 2009 article published in scientific journal Chemistry & Biology.

Earth Day Network has called the management of plastic waste a “global crisis.”

“Plastic pollution is now an ever-present challenge. We can see plastics floating in our rivers, ocean and lagoons, littering our landscapes and affecting our health and the future of billions of children and youth. We have all contributed to this problem –- mostly unknowingly,” Valeria Merino, vice president of Global Earth Day at Earth Day Network, said in a statement.

An estimated 275 million metric tons of plastic waste were generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons entering the ocean, according to findings in a 2015 study led by Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer at the University of Georgia.

Recent research commissioned by Orb Media, a nonprofit journalism organization based in Washington, D.C., found that 94 percent of drinking water in the United States and 93 percent of bottled water sampled from nine countries are spiked with chemically-laced plastic particles, many of which have been linked to major diseases.

In recent years, many countries have taken steps to ban bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates and other chemicals from plastics in some products.

“There is a growing tidal wave of interest in ending plastic pollution and some countries and governments are already in the vanguard. Earth Day Network believes we can turn that tidal wave into a permanent solution to plastics pollution,” Earth Day Network president Kathleen Rogers said in a statement.

This year, Earth Day Network will mobilize its global network of non-governmental organizations and grassroots groups, as well as local elected officials, faith leaders, artists, athletes, students and teachers “to build a world of educated consumers, voters and activists of all ages who understand the environmental, climate and health consequences of using plastic,” according to Rogers.

While recycling is important, Earth Day Network says it’s not nearly enough to bring an end to plastic pollution.

“You may be lulled into thinking it is OK to consume disposable plastic products because you plan to recycle them, but many plastics can’t be efficiently recycled and will end up in the landfill or littering the planet, even in the most remote places,” Merino said. “Also, some localities lack the most basic infrastructure to manage waste and to sort and recycle plastics. For this reason, it is much more important to focus on reducing your own level of plastic consumption.”

Here are some suggestions from the Earth Day Network on how to reduce your plastic footprint:

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Vietnam gives harsh jail terms to 6 for advocating democracy

Six human rights activists were sentenced to harsh prison terms in Vietnam after being convicted of attempting to overthrow the government by advocating a multiparty democracy.

Prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai received the most severe penalty of 15 years in prison and five years of house arrest at the one-day trial Thursday, said his lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng. The others received sentences from seven to 12 years.

They were charged with affiliating with a group called Brotherhood for Democracy, whose purpose was to change the leadership of the Communist Party and build a multiparty system.

“The sentences are too harsh to the defendants,” Mieng said. “They fought for human rights, they fought for the rights of multi-party system … which are recognized achievements of mankind, but the court sees it as serious (threat) to the regime.”

Five of the defendants including Dai maintained they were innocent because what they did was right, Mieng said. One defendant confessed to the crime and got the most lenient sentence, he added.

“The purpose of the group is to change the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam, build a multi-party system,” the official Vietnam News Agency quoted the verdict as saying. “The defendants’ act is not fight for democracy, but acts that aim at overthrowing the people’s administration.”

“The defendants’ act is especially serious because it directly impacts the survival of the people’s administration,” it said.

Prosecutors identified Dai as the mastermind of the group who recruited members and sought financing from foreign organizations and individuals, which totaled more than $ 80,000, VNA reported earlier.

Dai and four others had previously been jailed for violating national security laws, and Dai’s license to practice law was revoked.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the United States was deeply troubled by the harsh sentences under a “vague charge” and called for the release of all “prisoners of conscience” immediately.

“Individuals have the right to the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, both online and offline,” she said in a statement. “The United States is deeply concerned by the Vietnamese government’s efforts to restrict these rights, through a disturbing trend of increased arrests, convictions, and harsh sentences of peaceful activists.”

Speaking to reporters at a regular briefing Thursday, Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said there are no “prisoners of conscience” in Vietnam and no one has been arrested for freedom of expression.

“In Vietnam, like other countries in the world, all acts that violate the laws are seriously dealt with in accordance with law,” she said.

Amnesty International says 97 people are serving jail sentences for violating national security laws in Vietnam, while Human Rights Watch counts 119.

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Lightning seen over Japan's so-called James Bond volcano

Mount Shinmoedake, featured in the 1967 James Bond film “You Only Live Twice,” put on a show Thursday morning when cameras caught not only the volcano erupting but lightning above it.

The volcano, which is located between Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures in southwest Japan, has been erupting since the beginning of March.

On March 15, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued a Level 3 warning, alerting residents to not approach the volcano and refrain from entering the danger zone.

According to the Japan Times, the JMA reported ash plumes around 3 miles high from the latest eruption, which occurred at 3:31 a.m. Thursday morning. The agency also confirmed volcanic lightning caused by friction between ash particles.

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What's changed 1 year after US missile strikes in Syria

Exactly one year ago, on April 6, 2017, between 8:40 and 8:50 p.m. EDT, 59 U.S. Tomahawk missiles rained down on a Syrian airbase.

The missiles — launched from U.S. Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea — were the Trump administration’s direct response to a Syrian sarin gas attack the U.S. says was perpetrated by Syria‘s President Bashar al-Assad days earlier that killed more than 100 Syrian men, women, and children.

President Donald Trump said the strike was in the “vital national security interests” of the U.S. — a massive response meant to send a message to Assad never to use chemical weapons on his own people ever again. Assad has always denied using them.

A year later, in its push to retake rebel-held areas in western Syria, the Assad regime has continued to bomb and unleash chemical weapons the U.S. says, but the Trump administration has not been nearly as vocal in its criticism as it was after the attack on Khan Sheikhoun.

Meanwhile, the Assad regime finds itself in a stronger position militarily in western Syria with help from Iranian and Russian forces. On the opposite side of the country, American-backed Kurdish and Arab forces are on the verge of defeating ISIS on the battlefield.

But what comes next after an ISIS defeat?

Trump has signaled to military leaders that he’d like the U.S. to leave Syria “very soon” — a move that could open the door to another chapter in Syria’s devastating and deadly civil war as it enters its eighth year.

ABC News looks at what’s changed — and what hasn’t — in Syria since April 6, 2017.

In the year since the chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun that triggered U.S. military action, the Assad regime has continued to gas its own people, the U.S. and advocacy groups say.

Human Rights Watch has estimated the Syrian government to have committed “at least five more chemical weapons attacks” since last April.

Many of those were conducted in East Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, where it was reported the government used chlorine against its people earlier this year, according to the Arms Control Association.

Medical facilities supported by Doctors Without Borders said they received over 1,000 dead and 4,800 wounded in East Ghouta between Feb. 18 and March 4 alone.

Syrian strikes continued to hit the city during that time period, despite Russia calling for a truce to allow the 400,000 people living there to leave. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it will examine those attacks to determine if chemical weapons were used.

OPCW’s announcement was welcomed by western powers that have hoped to hold the Assad regime accountable.

After the attack in Khan Sheikhoun last year, Russia and China have vetoed UN Security Council resolutions including one that would have referred the case to the International Criminal Court.

A White House statement earlier this week marking one year since the Khan Sheikhoun attack said the people who died that day “deserve justice” and the administration “will not rest until the regime is held accountable.”

But even OPCW’s investigation won’t fully assign blame to the Assad regime for the attacks in East Ghouta – only confirm the use of chemical weapons.

“In Syria, the government is using chemical weapons that are banned the world over without paying any price,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “One year after the horrific sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun, neither the U.N. Security Council nor the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has acted to uphold the prohibition against chemical weapon attacks.”

The U.S. has had a military presence in Syria since early 2016 to train and advise Kurdish and Arab rebel forces fighting ISIS in northern and eastern parts of the country. Those troops are backed up by forces from other countries like the United Kingdom and France that make up the anti-ISIS coalition.

Weeks after the U.S. attacked the Syrian airbase, Trump delegated to the Pentagon the authority to set American military troop levels in Iraq and Syria — restoring a process that was in place prior to the Bush and Obama administrations.

At the time, the Pentagon said there would be no change to the official limit of 500 U.S. troops in Syria, but by November, the department acknowledged the American presence had slowly grown to approximately 2,000.

Over the past year, those troops have aided their Kurdish and Arab partner forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in making massive strides in the fight against ISIS.

Beginning in May, Trump authorized the U.S. to arm Kurdish elements of the SDF “as necessary” to help retake the city of Raqqa, ISIS’s de-facto capital in Syria.

The move had long been opposed by Turkey, which sees the Kurds as an extension of Kurdish terrorist organizations like the Kurdish Protection Units, which has conducted attacks inside Turkey.

In May, the more than 50,000 member-strong SDF, backed by the coalition, launched the long-awaited offensive to retake Raqqa from ISIS – which had held the city since 2014.

After a battle that left the city largely destroyed, the SDF declared victory on Oct. 20. Since then, a State Department official estimates about 100,000 former residents have returned.

With the loss of their de-facto capital in Syria, ISIS fighters fled southeast towards the middle Euphrates River Valley close to the Iraq border.

The most recent estimate from the Department of the Defense is that the coalition has retaken about 90 percent of the territory that once belonged to ISIS in Syria.

The military success hasn’t come without cost to American service members.

Since last April, two more American service members have been killed in Syria.

Master Sgt. Jonathan Dunbar, 36, of Austin, Texas was killed in Manbij last week after an improvised explosive device (IED) hit his patrol during a “kill or capture” mission against a known ISIS member. Last May, Spc. Etienne Murphy, 22, of Snellville, Ga., was killed in a vehicle rollover accident.

The U.S.-led fight against ISIS has continuously been distracted by Syrian-, Russian-, and Iranian-affiliated forces, operating in an ever-congested battlespace. At times, the U.S. has had military encounters with each of those forces.

Over the summer, the U.S. conducted airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias and shot down pro-regime drones that encroached on American forces in a remote corner of southern Syria.

Even more dramatically, the U.S. shot down a Syrian aircraft after it dropped a bomb near SDF fighters. It was the first time the U.S. had shot at a manned aircraft since 1999.

In early February, a force that included Russian mercenaries opened fire on U.S. forces east of the Euphrates River, causing the Americans to kill at least “dozens” of Russians, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Then, in March, Defense Secretary James Mattis revealed that Russian mercenaries had again moved into “more advanced positions” than the area of operations agreed upon by the U.S. and Russia.

This time, talks between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and his Russian counterpart were able to convince those forces to pull back.

And tensions have increased in northern Syria where a Turkish military incursion has set the stage for a possible battle between Turkey and American-backed Kurdish SDF forces.

Earlier this year, NATO-ally Turkey took over the Kurdish-held city of Afrin in northwestern Syria — with Turkish President Erdogan suggesting his country might expand its military operations against Syrian Kurds elsewhere in northern Syria.

The fight for Afrin has already had a negative impact on the fight against the last remaining pocket of ISIS fighters in eastern Syria. The offensive against ISIS fighters along the border with Iraq has been stalled for weeks as more than 1,500 highly trained Kurdish SDF fighters and commanders headed westward to fight the Turks in Afrin.

If Turkey carries out its threat to push Kurdish fighters out of other areas in northern Syria, it’s possible that even more SDF fighters could leave the fight against ISIS.

In the past week, Trump has called for U.S. forces to leave Syria “very soon” — statements that his national security team had not expected him to say publicly, according to a senior administration official and a U.S. official familiar with the matter.

But a White House statement issued this week, meant to clarify the U.S. presence there, did not announce an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.

“The military mission to eradicate ISIS in Syria is coming to a rapid end, with ISIS being almost completely destroyed,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

“The United States and our partners remain committed to eliminating the small ISIS presence in Syria that our forces have not already eradicated. We will continue to consult with our allies and friends regarding future plans,” she added.

The statement offered no timeline for a troop withdrawal, nor did it change the U.S. policy in Syria.

The president’s surprising statements made for awkward counter-messaging across town.

As Trump was repeating the call for the U.S. to leave Syria, a top U.S. general, diplomat, and development official laid out a strategy for America’s involvement in Syria going forward.

“The hard part, I think, is in front of us,” Gen. Joseph Votel, the U.S. Central Command chief, told an audience at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Tuesday, “and that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes, addressing the long-term issues of reconstruction and other things that will have to be done.”

Accompanying Votel, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green and the Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Brett McGurk agreed that what comes after the defeat of ISIS is a key U.S. national security concern.

There are eleven USAID and State Department officials overseeing larger teams that work on de-mining, rubble removal, restoring services like water and electricity, and rebuilding schools and hospitals. The work will allow residents to return to their homes and stabilize the area from becoming a breeding ground for terrorist groups.

The U.N. last estimated in December that about 715,000 people have been able to return to their homes – in part due to these stabilization efforts.

But, the Trump administration continues to send what appear to be mixed signals about those efforts. Last month the Trump administration froze $ 200 million worth of aid to Syria.

McGurk explained that the U.S. has already spent about $ 100 million of that amount and the freezing of funds is due to a regular review process to ensure the money is spent most effectively. He added that the coalition has contributed a similar amount of money.

In total, the U.S. has already spent $ 875 million on stabilization efforts.

On Thursday, Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters the president has “actually been very good in not giving us a specific timeline” for withdrawal.

He added that there was always going to be an adjustment to the U.S. troop presence in Syria after ISIS’s defeat.

“So, in that sense, nothing actually has changed,” McKenzie said of the White House announcement.

A State Department official agreed, telling ABC News on Thursday “there’s no specific timeline” for withdrawal.

“We’re where we were before,” the official said. “The fight against ISIS is our priority in Syria, and we’re committed to that fight until their enduring defeat.”

“Stick around to finish the job, and the president is on board with that,” the official added.

ABC News’ Conor Finnegan and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

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London's murder rate overtakes New York's for first time in modern history

London’s monthly murder rate has overtaken New York City’s for the first time in modern history, according to new figures from the Metropolitan Police and the New York Police Department.

In February, 15 people were murdered in London, against 14 in New York. But in March, London had 22 murders, slightly more than the 21 in New York, according to London Metropolitan Police figures that have not yet been officially released but which were confirmed to ABC News.

For the year 2018 so far, London still has fewer killings than New York, 46 compared to 50.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s office said it was “deeply concerned” by the latest figures of knife crime in the capital, but insisted that London “remains one of the safest [cities] in the world.”

New York and London have similar-size populations of around 8.5 million each. But the U.S. city’s murder rate has dropped dramatically, by about 87 percent, since its peak in the 1990s.

London’s murder rate has in contrast risen by 38 percent since 2014 when the city had 94 killings. There were 119 murders in 2015, 109 in 2016 and 134 in 2017.

The head of the Metropolitan Police Force, Cressida Dick, partly blamed social media for the rise in knife crime in London, which accounts for the majority of killings in the city.

Of the 46 murders in London this year, only four are confirmed so far to have been by gunshot although in several cases, confirmation of the cause of death is not yet final, according to the Metropolitan Policy.

The city’s police head, Dick, told BBC radio that apps and social websites played a large role in escalating disputes into violence.

In December, she appealed for increased funding for police forces despite overall cuts to public services in order to fight the rise in knife crimes.

She told a panel of members of Parliament in November 2017 that a proposal to find $ 560 million in savings from the Metropolitan Police would lead to a cut of at least 27,000 police officers.

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Trump proposed White House meeting with Putin: Kremlin aide

President Donald Trump offered to host Vladimir Vladimir Putin at the White House for a summit during a phone call with the Russian leader last month, a senior Kremlin aide told Russian media today.

Both the White House and the Kremlin have previously said the two leaders had discussed a possible summit during a call on March 20, when Trump called Putin to congratulate him on his win in Russia’s presidential election. At a briefing Monday, the Kremlin aide, Yuri Ushakov, said Trump had suggested on the call that the summit could be held at the White House.

“When our presidents were talking on the telephone, Trump proposed to hold a first meeting in Washington, in the White House,” Ushakov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying.

Ushakov did not say whether Putin had accepted the proposal and said that no firm negotiations for a summit had yet started, adding that Russia hopes one will take place in some form soon, according to Russia’s state news agency TASS.

“If everything will be OK, I hope that the Americans won’t withdraw their proposal to discuss the possibility of holding a summit,” Ushakov said, according to TASS.

Ushakov said Putin and Trump had not discussed a precise time frame for the meeting and that no specific negotiations around one had been held since the call. But he said that Russia believes such a summit is “highly important and needed for both countries and for the whole of the international community.”

The White House responded to Ushakov’s comments by saying that a number of venues were under consideration for a possible summit, including the White House, but there were “no specific plans” for a meeting at the moment.

“As the president himself confirmed on March 20, hours after his last call with President Putin, the two had discussed a bilateral meeting in the ‘not-too-distant future’ at a number of potential venues, including the White House,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters.

After the March 20 phone call, Trump told reporters he and Putin had discussed meeting and that he thought he and Putin would “probably get together in the not-too-distant future” to discuss arms control and the threat of a new nuclear arms race.

The Kremlin after the call said it has ordered its foreign minister Sergey Lavrov to open discussions with the U.S. about a meeting.

Since then relations between Russia and the U.S. and its allies have taken another sharp downturn, with Moscow and Washington expelling dozens of each others diplomats in a clash over the poisoning of a former spy in Britain. Russia expelled 60 U.S. diplomats and closed the American consulate in Saint Petersburg last week after the U.S. threw out 60 Russian diplomats and shut down Russia’s consulate in Seattle as part of a coordinated wave of expulsions of Russian diplomats by 27 European and NATO countries in response to the poisoning attack.

The U.S. has backed the British assessment that Russia bears responsibility for the poisoning of the former spy, Sergey Skripal and his daughter using a military grade nerve agent in the town of Salisbury at the beginning of March. But Trump was criticised at the time of the call for not raising the poisoning with Putin, even though the UK had already accused Russia of being behind the assassination attempt.

Ushakov said today the continuing diplomatic confrontation between Western countries and Russia had made it hard to arrange a meeting.

“Against the background of these events, of course, it is difficult to discuss holding a summit,” said Ushakov, according to Tass. Ushakov referred to the U.S. expulsions as a “bug” in the two countries’ relations. But Ushakov said there has been little time in any case since the call for negotiations on a summit to begin.

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