Did You Know?: Earth Day

Joann Wolwowicz

Living in a time where there is great concern for the environment, there is always discussion about global warming, recycling, and pollution. People are now more environmentally conscious about what they do to this planet, especially about what they do with things that can be reused. There are now cars that produce less pollution and run on electricity as opposed to gasoline, and almost everything produced now says that it’s composed of material that has already been recycled and reused. So much is being done to make sure that we protect this planet and its nonrenewable resources. So when did it all start? Though Americans were becoming more aware of the environment in the 1960’s, Earth Day, the day established to educate people about environmental issues was held for the first time in 1970.

Up until the 1960’s, the national political agenda was not relatively concerned to protecting the planet’s national resources. There were also a minimal number of activists devoted to issues such as industrial pollution. Airs, lakes, and rivers were constantly being polluted by factory waste. Few Americans knew little or were accustomed to practicing recycling. Things began to change in 1962 when Senator Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin, was elected to the U.S. Senate. Nelson was determined to convince the federal government that the planet was at risk of irreparable damage. Nelson became the leader of the environmentalist movement in 1969 when the idea of Earth Day was first discussed.

The Earth Day concept was introduced by Nelson at conference in Seattle in the fall of 1969 and invited the entire nation to get involved. Newspapers carried the story from coast to coast, and the concept took off quickly. Turns out there were more people in the United States that cared about what was happening to the environment. Nelson stated in an interview that he did not have the time, money, or additional resources to organize the event of such a magnitude. He stated that “the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.” Over 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities participated in the first Earth Day.

On April 22, the first Earth Day, there were rallies held in a variety of important cities including Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Additionally, there were speeches in New York City and Washington D.C. by celebrities and the majors. Congress even went into recess to be able to participate and speak at Earth Day events. Overall, the day was effective in gaining people’s attention to these important matters, and opinion polls showed that public awareness was raised and attitudes towards the environment were changed. It is safe to say that Earth Day kicked off the environmental decade, starting with the legislation that was passed to start taking care of this earth. This included the Clean Air Act and the Water Quality Improvement Act.

Earth Day is now a globally recognized day, going global in 1990, when 200 million people in 140 different countries participated, according to the Earth Day Network. Today, the Earth Day Network collaborates with more than 17,000 partners and organizations in 174 countries. According to EDN, more than one billion people are involved in Earth Day activities, making it “the largest secular civic event in the world.”