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Earth Day celebrates 50th anniversary April 22
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By Paige Hay
Community Outreach Specialist/ Envionmental Educator
CCH Environmental Group
With the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day April 22, it is with great satisfaction to provide you with some history of how and why Earth Day came about.
You can say that Earth Day began for some by simply reading a book written in 1962 by Racheal Carson titled “Silent Spring”.
This book sold on a global scale with its writing including the devasting affects pollution had on the environment, specifically pesticides and birds. She was an avid birdwatcher and noticed the heavy use of pesticides was killing birds and making the forest “silent” (Environmental Protection Agency).
Earth Day actually came about several years later on April 22, 1970, when approximately 10 percent of the United States population (20 million) went and declared that the Earth was being mistreated and abused in so many different forms that for future generations the Earth will become more of a wasteland than a planet (Earth Day.org).
They took to the streets, schools, colleges and hundreds of cities all over the U.S., protesting the misuse and ignorance of the Earth. They fought and demanded that something be done, if we were to continue living on this planet, we call home.
There was so much being done to hurt the planet instead of trying to protect it. Earth Day was formed in response to an environment in crisis — oil spills, smog, rivers so polluted they literally caught fire. For those who can remember the Cuyahoga River catching on fire, not just in the summer of 1969, but in 1952, 1948, 1941, 1936, 1922, 1912, 1887, 1883 and 1868 from all the oil and manufacturing waste being dumped into the river (Boisonneault, L. 2019). This was just one of the disasters that fueled the “fire” to start fighting for planet Earth.
The first Earth Day in 1970 launched a wave of action, including the passage of landmark environmental laws in the United States. The Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts were created in response to the first Earth Day in 1970, as well as, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The founder of Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson, felt it was time to act on reducing the pollution causing water supplies to be undrinkable, the air to be so thick you could not breathe and animals dying from the exposure to the same pollution that citizens were exposed. He would bring together several like minded individuals, Congressman Pete McCloskey and Denis Hayes, who would help spread the word on saving the environment. With these new Acts put into place, they lead the way to others being added throughout the years and the formation of organizations focused on helping protect the environment, such as Green Peace and World Wildlife Fund, just to name a few.
As the years have gone by, the focus of Earth Day themes changed from global warming, to pushing for clean energy, to this year’s climate action, it all falls into the categories of progressing towards cleaner air, cleaner water and all around saving the environment. Climate action seems to be the biggest challenge to date when it comes to trying to inform and heighten the awareness and urgency to help protect the Earth. Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders and it continues to achieve this every year.
In the face of these challenges, Earth Day prevailed and Earth Day Network reestablished Earth Day as a major moment for global action for the environment. Earth Day Network brought 250,000 people to the National Mall for a Climate Rally and introduced a global tree planting initiative that has since grown into The Canopy Project.
Earth Day Network also launched A Billion Acts of Green® — the world’s largest environmental service project — and engaged 75,000 partners in 192 countries in observing Earth Day (Earth Day 2020).
In 1990, Earth Day went global on a grand scale with over 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day 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 (Earth Day 2020). Soon other countries began following suite and having laws put into place to help protect where they were living. Earth Day became a global sensation and continues to hold major international significance: In 2016, the United Nations chose Earth Day as the day when the historic Paris Agreement on climate change was signed into action. The agreement includes changing what happens globally with reducing pollution of our waterways, land and air. This year the Paris Agreement will be setting new goals to obtain for the future generation to strive toward.
Earth Day 2020. (n.d.) The history of Earth Day. Website. EarthDay.org. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (Mar 5, 2020). EPA history. Website. Epa.gov/history. Retrieved 8 April 2020
Boisonneault, L. (June 19, 2019). The Cuyahoga River Caught Fire at Least a Dozen Times, but No One Cared Until 1969. Smithsonian Magazine. Website. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/cuyahoga-river-caught-fire-least-dozen-times-no-one-cared-until-1969-180972444/. Retrieved 8 April 2020.