Guest Author - Deborah Watson-Novacek
Every year, people around the world celebrate what is considered to be the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement on April 22nd, 1970.
Earth Day History - The First Earth Day
Earth Day was the brainchild of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Senator Nelson, long an environmental activist, came up with the idea of Earth Day after touring the aftermath of a large oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California in 1969. To bring attention to what he considered to be the increasing degradation of our natural environment, Senator Nelson proposed that an environmental "teach-in" take place on April 22, 1970. The concept of a teach-in was borrowed from then-popular teach-ins being held to educate Americans on the subject of the war in Vietnam.
In his push for the creation of Earth Day, Nelson announced his idea to a small conservation group in Seattle and later to a meeing tof the United Auto Workers, stating:
"I am convinced that all we need to do to bring an overwhelming insistence of the new generation that we stem the tide of environmental disaster is to present the facts clearly and dramatically. To marshal such an effort, I am proposing a national teach-in on the crisis of the environment to be held next spring on every university campus across the Nation. The crisis is so imminent, in my opinion, that every university should set aside 1 day in the school year - the same day across the Nation - for the teach-in."
Senator Nelson then persuaded Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, also interested in the advancement of the conservation movement, to serve as co-chair of the event. A young Harvard graduate student, Denis Hayes, read about Senator Nelson's proposal and asked to be involved in the effort. Hayes had been student body president and a campus activist at Standford University, in Congressman McCloskey's district in California. After meeting with the young man, Nelson asked him to drop out of Harvard and direct the effort to organize Earth Day across the United States. Hayes proceeded to build a national staff of 85 like-minded individuals to promote Earth Day events across the country.
The hard work paid off! On April 22nd, 1970, more than 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day teach-in. The success of the event is considered to have been a major factor in the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.
Earth Day History - Earth Day 1990
In 1990, Denis Hayes - coordinator of the first Earth Day in 1970 - was recruited by environmental leaders to organize another big effort. It was time to take Earth Day global!
As a result of this work, more than 200 million people in 141 countries worked together to bring more awareness to conservation issues. As a result of this effort, two years later, in 1992, the United Nations held an "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro. In 1995, Senator Gaylord Nelson was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work as the founder of Earth Day.
Earth Day History - Earth Day 2000
The approach of the millennium spurred another concentrated effort by Denis Hayes. Earth Day 2000 focused on global warming and the creation of clean energy sources. This is the first year that the internet played a big part in the activity, allowing the effort to reach hundreds of millions of people around the globe. More than 5,000 environmental groups in 184 countries participated.
In 2009, the United Nations designated April 22nd as "International Mother Earth Day." It is estimated that Earth Day is now observed by more than 500 million people each year.
If you're interested in learning more about Earth Day and its finders, here are two books that you should find interesting:
The Man from Clear Lake: Earth Day Founder Senator Gaylord Nelson
Learn more about U.S. Senator Gaylor Nelson of Wisconsin, the founder of Earth Day.
Beyond Earth Day: Fulfilling the Promise
Along with his coauthors, including a foreward by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson discusses a wide variety of current environmental issues.
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