This April 22nd, make sure to sing happy 47th birthday to the modern environmental movement! More commonly known as Earth Day, this day marks a changing of time and culture. The year 1970 was the height of counterculture in the United States. While the younger generations mourned the death of Jimi Hendrix, the last Beatles Album, and celebrated Simon and Garfunkel’s release of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the older generations supported the Vietnam War. The “smell of prosperity” (air pollution) was something most Americans were proud of, while the word “environment” was in very few people’s vocabulary. This didn’t stop those who celebrated the very first Earth Day.
The original idea came from Gaylord Nelson, then a US Senator. After witnessing the devastation of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, he joined with students forming the anti-war movement, knowing that a change in perspective was needed for the future. As the younger generation he targeted grew up, he reasoned that they would bring public awareness about air and water pollution to the national political agenda. His idea took off quicker than anyone expected. By January of 1970, a plan was being put in place to announce through national media, a “teach-in on the environment.” And because students were in charge of this event, a date between spring break and final exams was chosen.
On the morning of April 22, twenty million Americans, led by 85 students selected by Nelson, took to the streets, parks, fields, and outdoor areas. They marched for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized walkouts and protests against oil spills, unclean factories, power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, and destruction of wilderness. Thousands of organizations came together, with a renewed strength and determination to bring environmental awareness to the Earth we live on.
In the years since this first nation-wide event, Democrats and Republicans, rich and poor, farmers and city slickers, have all come together to unite in a common cause. By 1990, April 22nd became a globally recognized day, and by 1995, Senator Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton for his work in founding Earth Day.
This past year, more people, organizations, and countries than ever before joined together in National Earth Day events, making it the largest secular observance in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people worldwide. With more opposition than ever before, activists around the world are working double as hard this year to bring awareness of climate change to as many as possible. So, join with us this year, in celebrating what our beautiful planet has to offer, and the respect and love it deserves.