The Origins of Earth Day
Before 1970, large scale environmentalism didn’t really exist.
Americans pumped heavily leaded gasoline into their inefficient cars and drove through smog leaden cities to work every morning. Industry discharged smoke, sludge, and untold pollutants without fear of fine or bad press.
Air pollution was equated to prosperity.
It’s not that society didn’t care; mainstream America was largely oblivious that there was any problem at all with the way they lived their lives.
The seeds of change were sown in 1962 with the release of Rachel Carson’s national bestselling book Silent Spring.
Carson spent 6 years researching and documenting the damages that chemical pollutants were wreaking on our world; something that the majority of the population had never even thought of.
She introduced the idea that we must start to live as an equal part of Earth’s systems and not the master of them. She called for humans to act responsibly, carefully, and as stewards of the living earth.
Seven years later there was a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, that would change the world forever.
After witnessing the devastation, Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin was moved to action. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, Nelson sought to harness the energy of the emerging public consciousness to spur radical change.
He proposed a teach-in event on college campuses nationwide. He persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman to join him. Together they recruited Denis Hayes, a young activist, to help organize their efforts on campus.
They chose April 22nd, a weekday falling between Spring Break and Final Exams, to maximize student participation.
Denis Hayes recognized the potential for this movement to inspire all Americans. He put together a team of 85 individuals from a wide range of organizations, communities and faith groups. They coined the term ‘Earth Day’, sparking national media attention.
On April 22nd, 1970, over 20 million Americans took to the streets in protest.
Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders.
The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other first of their kind environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act.
Two years later Congress passed the Clean Water Act. A year after that, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act and soon after the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.
These laws have protected millions of men, women, and children from disease and death and have prevented hundreds of species from going extinct.
If anything, Earth Day is more important now than ever before. While much has been done to protect our planet and safeguard its inhabitants, climate change continues to be the biggest problem we have ever faced as a society. It’s time for us to step up once again.
2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
To honor this milestone, here is a comprehensive guide on how you can reduce waste a live a greener, more sustainable lifestyle.