Happy Birthday to Earth Day!
Forty years ago, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin shared his idea for a nationwide teach-in day on the importance of preserving the environment. His proposed action was conceived after traveling to Santa Barbara, Calif. soon after a horrific oil spill off the coast in 1969. Nelson’s outrage surrounding the devastation targeted political irresponsibility, and he pushed for a grassroots effort at college campuses nationwide. The idea was readily accepted and April 22, 1970, came to be known as the first Earth Day.
Denis Hayes, a principle organizer for Earth Day, assembled a staff to rally across the country at thousands of colleges and universities in April 1970. Roughly 20 million people participated, and now, hundreds of millions of people and several national governments in 175 countries mark the observance of Earth Day.
“I remember it was on the news,” Sussex Countian David Orr said. “I was drafted into the army the previous August, and even a lot of those in the army viewed it as a positive thing.” From his recollection, there was still some controversy surrounding the idea. “Of course you had the conservatives who would say, ‘Oh, those hippies,’ but there’s definitely a clear continuity from then up to today.”
As years progressed, more and more endeavors were made to improve the state of the environment. Earth Day in 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide, and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where heads of state and government met to discuss environmental dilemmas like alternative energy sources and fossil fuels and the push for more public transportation systems in order to reduce vehicle emissions. By the turn of the millennium, Hayes assumed another campaign, focusing on global warming and clean energy.
“You can see what Earth Day has done for our world,” said Orr, who cites authors who have tried to keep Nelson’s message going. “Rachel Cook’s book, “Silent Spring,” raised a lot of consciousness back then and brought to light a number of issues like the harm of DDT in pesticides. It’s become a cultural phenomenon. Stuart Brand, propelled the whole thing along with the Whole Earth Catalog.”
The awareness continues to spread, as Earth Day 2007, one of the largest Earth Days to date, estimates a billion participants. “The list is endless of issues our environment faces since 1970,” said Orr. “Each will have its moment in the sun, but they really need to be an ongoing concern for people. Even architectural advancements are being made. Concepts like new urbanism - designing houses to fit within a small town layout to cut down on pollution - are taking off. For a while, there was a push to teach environmentalism in schools, but most have gone back in the opposite direction. Regardless, the consciousness needs to be raised.”
So what can you do to take part? Recycling programs and tree planting activities sometimes seem exhausted, but there is never enough. Log onto www.earthday.net to find out about activities and ideas that you can do in order to make a difference in the environment.