Honestly, every day should be Earth Day. Our planet is the only one in our galaxy (that we know of) with the perfect environment for life.
- Just the right atmosphere for us to breathe.
- Just the right temperature for liquid water.
- Symbiotic relationships between ecosystems and their inhabitants.
Our planet is beautifully unique—that’s why taking care of her today, tomorrow, and into the future is SO important.
That’s why, each year, millions of people join together to celebrate, educate, and take action on global issues.
Why Earth Day?
The very first Earth Day happened exactly 50 years ago, April 22, 1970.
Americans had just experienced a tumultuous decade full of conflict, questions, and calls for justice.
And citizens were realizing how powerful their individual voices could be when brought together.
Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin saw dramatic levels of pollution brought on by growing industries of the early 20th century.
He knew change needed to happen.. but how? And by whom?
Inspired by the activism of the 60’s, Senator Nelson looked to the next generation. Young people would be the torch-carriers.
Their own futures were on the line.
Nelson and his grassroots team picked April 22 to hold a “national teach-in on the environment” across the nation.
They picked this day carefully. Students would still be gathered at universities. Their teachers and resources would be close-by. Trees and flowers would be in full bloom.
Anyone who expected the very first Earth Day to be relatively small was dead wrong. Instead it was instant news! A national success!
A bunch of young people taking action in their own communities had gotten the world’s attention.
According to Nelson, “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.”
What Happened Next…
The efforts of a single day started a lot of conversation. That conversation trickled up into the legislature. Over the next few years, its results were impressive.
Clean Air ActCongress passed this law just a few months after Earth Day 1970. The sweeping protections and regulations led to large drops in air pollution. City skies were cleared from smog—once so thick it blocked out the sun.
Water Quality Improvement ActPassed in 1972, this law restricted waste dumping into rivers (Which you would think was a no-brainer, right?) and led to more than $650 billion of water treatment built.
The Environmental Protection Agencyformed in 1972. They now had stronger authority and more resources to investigate environmental issues. What started as a grassroots movement gained official momentum.
The Endangered Species ActIn 1973 Congress expanded this law to protect species that were quickly disappearing from the earth. Thanks to work by the “new” Environmental Protection Agency, 99% of plants and animals protected by the law have avoided extinction!
The Toxic Substances Control ActDuring the first Earth Day, participants demanded restrictions and even bans on dangerous chemicals like lead, DDT, and other toxic substances. In 1976 congress finally passed a protective new law. ( Forty years later, the amount of lead in humans has dropped NINETY-FOUR percent.)
Senator Nelson and the Earth Day crew had started a tidal wave that refused to be stopped.
Public opinions on the importance of environmental issues went up 2,500% in a single year.
Politicians began to add conservation and ecological issues to their platforms.
And these are just some of the laws, groups, and ideas that kept up traction after the first Earth Day.
The first Earth Day proved that it doesn’t have to take decades to change people's minds.
It also doesn’t take long for people to forget...
Pew Research Center recently found that the majority of Americans believe that we still aren’t doing enough. Government officials have let important issues fall to the side.
But more people than ever believe that climate, energy, ecology, and world health issues are top priorities.
According to EDN, more than 1 billion people are now involved in Earth Day activities, making it “the largest secular civic event in the world.”
Where Will We Go in the Next 50 Years?
It’s been an amazing—and crazy—50 years for environmentalism.
In 1990 Earth Day went global. In 2000 Earth Day focused on clean energy. This year’s theme is Climate Action.
But with the amount of conversation today involving eco-issues, it’s easy to take all this “green hype” for granted.
Someone else will do it. It’s too big for one person. Why me?
But, as we’ve seen: the history of Earth Day should be an encouragement to all of us.
Fifty years ago a bunch of students came together in their own towns and cities for a cause that they believed in. Their “simple” actions changed the entire world. They made our lives better. They helped make the world better.
And we can carry on their legacy!
So reach out to your friends, people you know in your community, and brainstorm ways that you can make the spaces around you better— for everyone.
By starting small and acting locally, we can still make BIG things happen.