Earth Day – A brief history

So today is earth day a holiday that has been around longer than most people realize. The first Earth Day was the year I was born 1970! As I was born in February I have been alive for every earth day! So how did we get this holiday? We have to go back a bit to the end of WWII and discuss quickly that war’s impact on the U.S. WWII created vast industry, in addition to that the country prior was in the “great depression” so the 50’s and early 60’s was an enormous growth period for the U.S. both socially and economically. The residual effect of that kind of growth was the compromise of the environment.

Any Gen Xer out there can tell you about the commercials we had in the 70s. Lester the Light bulb, Woodsy the Owl, The crying Indian. We had major smog issues in cities and our rivers were getting horrifically polluted. Simply put, many people realized that we were over polluting our planet and the environmentalism movement was born. One of the best way to get people to acknowledge an issue is to “have a day” that raises awareness.

This was also with the backdrop of student activism of the 60’s. The 60’s was filled with turmoil socially in the U.S. An unpopular war, Civil rights movement, Feminist movement on and on. So the stage was set perfectly for environmentalism. Senator Gaylord Nelson announced the idea for a teach-in on college campuses to the national media, and persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair.  They recruited Denis Hayes, a young activist, to organize the campus teach-ins and they choose April 22, a weekday falling between Spring Break and Final Exams, to maximize the greatest student participation. 

Wouldn’t it be great if the grass WAS greener on the other side?

Earth Day achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders. By the end of 1970, we had the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency the passage of 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. 

The resulting legislation listed above has had a profound effect on the world we have today. Had Earth Day not happened and we continued on the path we were on the climate change debate today would be vastly different. At the time the argument was over, everyone agreed that we (this was exclusive to the U.S. at the time) had to clean up the environment or we were heading to disaster and to a large degree we did. In 1992 Earth day went global with the United Nations Earth Summit.

So here we are in 2022. We still have a lot of environmental issues to deal with. This blog doesn’t delve into global warming and the politics of that subject so I am not going to go in-depth here. I will say that effort counts, so buy a reusable straw for your drinks. Use paper bags at the grocery store. Do something, every small contribution helps to keeping the world healthier. Earth Day at its core was started as a good faith endeavor to empower people to clean up their environment.

Don’t let political discourse get in the way of common sense. You know the more trash we put into the world, the dirtier the world gets. You might not have to deal with it now but someone will someday.

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