Earth Day 50th Anniversary
Today, we celebrate an Earth Day 50th Anniversary. On Wednesday, April 22nd, 1970, the movement of American environmentalism was born. The recognition of human influence on mother earth on that day was historic. Millions and millions of people throughout the country participated in what was said to be a bright, clear, and relatively peaceful day. Twenty million people, roughly 10% of the American population, partook in the festivities that first day.
Although conservationism goes back decades before the 1970s and no doubt ushered in a necessary awareness, Earth Day produced a prominent voice in the public consciousness toward the state of our planet.
The Environmental Revolution
During decades preceding the ‘70s, Americans consumed vast amounts of leaded gasoline driving in rather inefficient automobiles. Industries polluted without any fear of public condemnation. Bad air quality smelled more of success to people than a harmful byproduct. Most Americans either ignored the hazardous pollutions or stayed unaware of the environmental concerns threatening their lives on the planet.
But, in 1969, junior Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson took notice of the massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, and the erratic degradation of the American environment in general. He partnered with another conservation-oriented senator, Pete McCloskey, and activist Denis Hayes to produce teach-ins on college campuses throughout the country. They chose April 22nd because it landed in the middle of the academic calendar between spring break and final exams.
Earth Day 1970
Earth Day received a ton of national media attention. It inspired over 20 million Americans to demonstrate against the decades of untethered industrial pollution and the alarming human health problems stemming from it. Colleges and universities across the country organized protests with thousands of rallies.
Earth Day brought together separate groups previously fighting against specific causes like oil spills, toxic waste, factory pollution, and wildlife extinction. Now, they banded together arm-in-arm. There was even political agreement with broad support from both Republicans and Democrats. Thus, by the end of the year, the success of Earth Day led to the installment of the government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). New laws on a national scale soon followed, such as:
- the National Environmental Education Act;
- the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA);
- the Clean Air Act;
- the Clean Water Act;
- the Endangered Species Act;
- and many more.
These laws led to the protection of countless people, as well as the awareness of the potential extinction of numerous plant and animal species.
Earth Day 2020
Today, this day, more than a billion people worldwide observe Earth Day. It highlights the need to change human behavior and foster local, national, and global environmental policies, not weaken or reduce them. Awareness of record heat, wildfires, intense storms, floods, and debris flows, to name a few, continue to grow under the urgent warnings of climate change. Here is a wonderfully animated YouTube video showcasing Earth Day in 1970 and today.
Fifty years ago, nearly 20 million people took to the streets on the first Earth Day. Today, it is important to stay home and shelter-in-place to protect ourselves, our families, and our neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the situation and the cause today are similar to 50 years ago. This day, Earth Day 2020 is about demanding a healthier and more livable future for all.