Written by: Emily Vargo
April 22, 2021, will be the 51st anniversary of Earth Day. Earth Day was founded in 1970 to educate people about environmental issues.
Leading up to the first Earth day many Americans were consuming vast amounts of leaded gas that was being emitted into the atmosphere by inefficient motor vehicles. Industries would blow out smoke and sludge into the atmosphere with little to no thought, or fear of bad publicity. Air pollution was mostly accepted and was a sign of prosperity.
The life of oblivion to the environment would soon come to an end with the publication of the book Silent Spring in 1962 by Rachel Cason. This book raised awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment, and links between pollution and public health. Senator Gaylord Nelson, from Wisconsin, had a huge concern about the environment in America.
After the massive oil spill of 1969 in Santa Barbara, California. Senator Nelson was inspired by the student anti-war movement and wanted to infuse the energy of the student anti-war protests with the emerging public concerns about air and water pollution. Senator Nelson announced to the media an idea about having a teach-in on a college campus and somehow convinced a conservative republican to serve as his co-chair and this representative was Pete McCloskey. The two Senators recruited Denis Heyes who was a young activist to help organize the campus teachings and they choose April 22. They chose this date because it is between spring break and finals week which will allow a big turnout.
Heyes saw the potential of this idea so he took a national staff of 85 to promote events in the US which eventually broaden to organizations, faith groups, and many others. Earth Day inspired 10% of the US population to take to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate against the impacts of 150 years of industrial development which had left a growing legacy of serious human health impacts.
Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans, Democrats, rich, poor, urban dwellers, farmers, business, and labor leaders. By the end of 1970, the first
Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other 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 protected hundreds of species from extinction. In the 1990s Earth day went global for the first time. This led to a huge boost to recycling efforts and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom which was given to him for his role as the Earth Day founder.
Today the environment is more important than ever and is a big topic to talk about. More and more people are working towards a cleaner, safer, and healthier environment. For this Earth Day spread your knowledge about the environment, visit some parks, help clean up around your neighborhood, start recycling, and put a plan together in order to help our wonderful planet.