Happy Earth Day 2020! Today marks the 50th year that Earth day is officially celebrated, although in reality, shouldn’t Earth day be everyday?
Earth Day was first officially declared April 22nd, 1970. However, environmentalist movements sparked earlier, particularity in 1962, when Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published and recognized globally as a New York Times Bestseller. Carson’s book sold more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries, uniting individuals worldwide who were concerned over the environment and the undeniable links between pollution and public health.
Nevertheless, after witnessing the horrifying effects of the oil spill in Santa Barbara (1969), Senator Gaylord Nelson reached out to Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey and young activist Denis Hayes, to organize campus teach-ins. The Wisconsin senator had been inspired by the student anti-war movements and wanted to utilize the momentum to raise awareness on the United States’ deteriorating environment. In order to maximize student participation, April 22nd was chosen (since it was conveniently in between Spring Break and Finals for most students).
However, determined Denis Hayes realized that the environmental movement was widespread among all age groups and communities in the U.S. and so he put together a national team of 85 activists to organize events across the country. As the movement gained popularity it was proclaimed “Earth Day”, marking the very first official demonstration.
Across the country Americans (including thousands of universities) took to the streets, parks, and public spaces, to protest against the decades of industrial development and greed that were not only endangering human health, but also nature as a whole. The first Earth day inspired 20 million Americans to take part, at the time accounting for 10% of the U.S. population. Americans came together across all backgrounds, Earth Day received rare bipartisan support as urban dwellers and farmers, rich and poor, business and labor leaders, all demonstrated their support for the movement.
Earth Day marks a historic example of how the participation of millions of individuals leads to massive impacts. By the end of 1970 many of the first environmental laws like the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act. Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which would continue to push for more acts in the following years like the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.
Looking back 50 years later in 2020, environmentalist movements have continued to fight on for the protection and restoration of planet Earth, pulling global support for a greener future. Needless to say, Earth Day 50 years ago would not have been as effective if the millions of people had not participated, and over the years to follow public action has played a crucial role in the movement.
Today is an important opportunity to remind ourselves to stay involved and cherish the beautiful world that surrounds us. Like the many who have fought for climate action in the past by volunteering, protesting, and actively leading more sustainable lives, it’s imperative we continue to strive for a cleaner and brighter future for the generations to follow.
Happy Earth Day!
Information compiled from https://www.earthday.org/history/ and http://www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/modern/jb_modern_earthday_1.html