History of Earth Day

Happy Earth Day, everyone! I struggled with the question of what to write on Earth Day. I haven’t been doing or studying these things for very long, so I’m not really sure what is expected of me on this special occasion. What do a write about to help celebrate the Earth when I try to do that almost every day? I only could only think of one thing that might be appropriate and that was to give homage to the history of Earth Day and its founding fathers and mothers.

It may be hard to imagine that before 1970, a factory could spew black clouds of toxic into the air or dump tons of toxic waste into a nearby stream, and that was perfectly legal. They could not be taken to court to stop it.

The EPA had not been born then, there was no Clean Air Act, no Clean Water Act, and no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment.

The idea of Earth Day can largely be contributed to Gaylord Nelson.  As a senator, Nelson contributed to important liberal reforms but struggled for years to interest his colleagues in environmental protections. So he turned instead to the people, proposing April 22, 1970 as a day for Americans to speak out about the environmental crises they faced.

“I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda. It was a big gamble, but worth a try,” said Senator Gaylord Nelson

“Finally, in November 1962, an idea occurred to me that was, I thought, a virtual cinch to put the environment into the political “limelight” once and for all. The idea was to persuade President Kennedy to give visibility to this issue by going on a national conservation tour. I flew to Washington to discuss the proposal with Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who liked the idea. So did the President. The President began his five-day, eleven-state conservation tour in September 1963. For many reasons the tour did not succeed in putting the issue onto the national political agenda. However, it was the germ of the idea that ultimately flowered into Earth Day,” said Senator Nelson.

For the past few years, college students had been staging teach-ins to educate their campuses about the war in Vietnam. What if, Nelson wondered, students used the same forum to raise environmental awareness, and what if they coordinate their events to fall on the same day, grabbing headlines and sending a strong environmental message to the Capitol? His proposal was met immediately with overwhelming support. The national media widely broadcast the plans for this so-called “Earth Day” and Nelson’s office was flooded by enthusiastic letters.

For the first time, the Earth Day stage gathered together the diverse constituents of the modern environmental movement: youthful idealists, liberal Democrats, middle-class women, scientists, professionals, and representatives of conservation groups, labor unions, and churches. They all gathered, young, old, to confront the ecological troubles in their cities, states, nation, and planet—and to demand action from themselves and their elected officials.

“Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself,” said Nelson.

Addressing the Earth Day 1970 audience in Denver, Nelson proclaimed, “Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human being and all living creatures.”

Disinterest on Capitol Hill had long stifled ecological concerns. But after April 1970 a growing environmental awareness nurtured ten years of groundbreaking legislation, which became the bulwark of modern environmental law.

The first Earth Day was effective at raising awareness about environmental issues and transforming public attitudes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Public opinion polls indicate that a permanent change in national priorities followed Earth Day 1970. When polled in May 1971, 25 percent of the U.S. public declared protecting the environment to be an important goal, a 2,500 percent increase over 1969.” Earth Day kicked off the “Environmental decade with a bang,” as Senator Nelson later put it. During the 1970s, a number of important pieces of environmental legislation were passed, among them the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Another key development was the establishment in December 1970 of the Environmental Protection Agency, which was tasked with protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment—air, water and land.

The Clean Air Act included Nelson’s amendment setting a deadline by which cars must include emissions-reducing technologies. The Clean Water Act of 1972 incorporated Nelson’s proposals to offer businesses low-interest loans to install pollution controls and $25 billion in grants to municipalities to build sewage treatment plants. In the same year, Nelson oversaw the passage of a ban on dumping in the oceans and Great Lakes.

His long fight against pesticides propelled forward when the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) forbade all nonessential uses of DDT and agreed to Nelson’s requests to ban aldrin and dieldrin and curb the use of the herbicide Agent Orange. Nelson led Congress to provide funding for alternative pest control methods and helped establish the precautionary principle with the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

Nelson continued to pursue an ambitious conservation agenda as well. Having already secured the “wild and scenic” designation for Wisconsin’s Saint Croix, Namekagon, and Wolf Rivers as well as the federal preservation of the Appalachian Trail, in 1970 Nelson was able to realize his dream of bringing the Apostle Islands into the national parks system. Nelson, long opposed to the ecological damage wrought by the Army Corps of Engineers, played a role in the first defeat of a Corps project—damming the Kickapoo River—on environmental grounds. And, to the wildlife conservation assured by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, Nelson added legal protections for predators and marine mammals.

Five years after the first Earth Day and just months after Nixon’s resignation, President Gerald Ford made a proclamation declaring March 21 as Earth Day.

For environmentalist John McConnell, it was vindication for what he considers to be his hijacked holiday. McConnell actually coined the term Earth Day and launched his own event in San Francisco on the 1970 equinox, a full month before Nelson’s took place.

The two events share the same basic message but McConnell’s is recognized as the official global Earth Day by the United Nations. The U.N. refers to the April 22 event as “International Mother Earth Day.”

The Environmental Decade came to an abrupt end with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Nelson, like several of his liberal colleagues, lost his seat. In his final weeks in office, he pushed through the preservation of 100 million acres in Alaska and, in his last legislative act, added 1,000 acres to the Saint Croix Scenic Riverway. He drastically cut the EPA’s budget and even had Jimmy’s solar panels taken off the roof of the White House. Some believe Attorney General Edwin Meese told him that solar panels didn’t project the image of a super power. On the upside, Reagan is credited with helping save the ozone layer. According to my environmental science teacher, Reagan was known as the environmental rapist. Wouldn’t be a nice way to go down in history?

At the 28th celebration of Earth Day, Clinton laid out an ambitious environmental agenda. His plan was to protect the Redwoods, keep mining out of Yosemite and finally put the entirety of the Appalachian Trail under public control. As far as the funding was concerned, Clinton’s response was very ’90s: “The money is there, the economy is in good shape, the budget is going to be balanced.”

President Carter became the first president to speak at an Earth Day rally. He also appointed Denis Hayes, coordinator of the first Earth Day, as head of the Federal Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI).

Eleven years Carter’s Earth Day proclaimed April 22, Earth Day, and 5 years after that President Ford took a swing at it. Congress passed Joint Resolution 119, establishing Earth Day as April 22. This time it was George H. W. Bush’s chance to proclaim in the name of Mother Earth.

Why all the date change? Around March 21, is when the spring equinox falls, so some believe it was changed to avoid connecting the event to the equinox, often considered a pagan holiday.

Since 1970, Earth Day celebrations have grown. In 1990, Earth Day went global, with 200 million people in over 140 nations participating, according to the Earth Day Network (EDN), a nonprofit organization that coordinates Earth Day activities. In 2000, Earth Day focused on clean energy and involved hundreds of millions of people in 184 countries and 5,000 environmental groups, according to EDN. Activities ranged from a traveling, talking drum chain in Gabon, Africa, to a gathering of hundreds of thousands of people at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Today, the Earth Day Network collaborates with more than 17,000 partners and organizations in 174 countries. According to EDN, more than 1 billion people are involved in Earth Day activities, making it “the largest secular civic event in the world.”

Nelson remained a national figure in environmental politics as Counselor of the Wilderness Society until his death in 2005. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor for civilians, in 1995. In the speech he gave that year to mark the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, he kept his gaze on the horizon:

“The opportunity for a gradual but complete break with our destructive environmental history and a new beginning is at hand…. We can measure up to the challenge if we have the will to do so—that is the only question. I am optimistic that this generation will have the foresight and the will to begin the task of forging a sustainable society.”

On Earth Day 2009, President Obama declared that America had to make a choice. It could either continue to be the leading importer of oil, or become the leading exporter of clean energy.

So there we have it, the history of Earth Day. The good, bad and ugly things it wentthrough. I hope everyone has a fabulous day.






How to Celebrate Earth Day

As you probably know, Earth Day is April 22. It’s right around the corner. I try to celebrate the Earth every day, so I’m not really sure what I’ll do to make April 22 extra special, maybe dumpster diving or maybe throw myself out of my comfort zone and make a recycling convert. Since I don’t go very many places on Sunday, I may have to settle for doing that on Friday. I don’t know yet, but I’ll let you know.

1.      Plant a tree in your back yard: Besides being a fun activity for your family, planting trees help to lower greenhouse gas emissions, and they provide a habitat for a variety of other plants and animals. Go to your local nursery, and pick out the perfect native tree for your yard. Lifetime trailers make it easy to haul the tree home. More trees in your yard can actually lower your cooling bill by providing shade over your house. Everybody wins when they plant trees.

2. Make pine cone birdfeeders- Bring birds right to your yard and watch them as they enjoy a healthy snack. Making pine cone bird feeders is a fun and easy activity for children. click here for instructions. Keep in mind, birds from different areas need different nutrients, so do your research before buying bird feed. Also, try not to hang the bird feeder in front of a window.

3. Visit a nearby recycling facility- Recycling processes are fascinating and fun to watch.  By visiting a recycling center, you can see how super, duper easy it is. Just give it that chance. If you save up recyclable materials to drop off during the visit, you’ll earn some extra change you can use to pick up ice cream cones afterward (our city’s recycling center doesn’t pay, but some do. We take our cans to a metal recycling center and we get paid for that.)

4. Sit with the family and set specific goals to recycle and save energy- It’s often as easy as changing your light bulbs, adjusting the setting on your fridge, or making a routine trip to a nearby recycling bin.

5. Plant or renew your vegetable garden- April is the perfect time to plan your garden. Section off an area of your yard or use a Raised Garden Bed, and decide what you’d like to grow this year. If you don’t have a yard, window boxes and large pots work just as well. Home grown vegetables are pesticide-free and help you save money. You can also nourish them with recycled kitchen scraps and grass clippings, using a composter. Let the children choose new types of fruits or vegetables to try out each year, and give them responsibilities in the garden.

6. Plant flowers at a local non-profit organization, church or community gardens- Contact the organization prior to planting. Most are thrilled when someone offers to beautify their grounds.

  1. Go on a nature hike- Nature hikes are a great way to appreciate the details of our beautiful earth. Pick a park or nearby trail, or visit a new place every year on Earth Day.
  2. Ride a bike or walk- Take some extra time out of your day and ride or walk to work or whatever activities you’re doing this Sunday. It’ll help you get energized, feel accomplished, get you ready to take on the day while helping the environment.
  3. Clean up litter at a local park- Parks provide places for everyone in the community to enjoy nature. Unfortunately, litter detracts from their beauty, and can be dangerous to people and animals. Bring some large bags and gather up trash to revive your park. Use sticks to pick up the litter you don’t want to touch.
  4. Attend an Earth Day event- Earth Day events are held across the nation, and are full of fun activities for both you and the kids. Pick a place close to you, events can be seen at http://act.earthday.org/ .
  5. Cook a special Earth Day meal using all non-processed foods- Invite the friends and family over to share a healthy, home-cooked meal. Get creative and decorate in an ‘earth day’ theme using leaves or potted plants, and let each guest take a plant home to add to their garden.  Here are some good websites for ideas on how to throw an eco-friendly dinner party: http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500171_162-4946088.html



12. And last, but not least, contact corporations, your local representative in congress, anybody who practices something that you would like them not to. Green4u has information on how to contact your representative in Congress. As a celebration of Earth Day, they also have posted companies that use Styofoam and ways to contact them and ask them to stop.

I contacted Chic-fil-a and Jumba Juice. I didn’t just ask them to stop, but why they should. With additional details, basically I said Styrofoam is just a bunch of chemicals, they give cancer, other health risks like death and they’re terrible for the environment. Some stores have a recycling bin the styofoam, so they at least care somewhat about the  environment, but they’re reasoning for keeping the styofoam cup is that people are constantly praising their insulating abilities and until they find a cup that does that just as well, they’re not changing anything. It’s nice to know that people and companies have their priorities straight. You can’t put a price on a ice cold beverage. Actually, you can, it’s called cancer, death and a destroyed environment. I have still yet to contact anybody from congress. To be honest, it’s just the fact that I don’t know what to say. They make me so that if I started then everything would just be a rant  and that’s not what I want. So, I’m mulling it over.

Earth Day reminds us we all share the same planet. Sharing Earth means taking responsibility for what we use and how we use it. It is a day to think of the environmental challenges we face and how to solve them. Protecting Earth is every person’s and every country’s responsibility.