Friday, 01 May 2009

The origins of Earth Day

Earth Day is celebrated on April 22 each year. The April 22 Earth Day was started by Senator Gaylord Nelson.

The idea began in 1962 when Senator Nelson first tried to bring environmental issues into government in the United States. "That year," recalls Senator Nelson, "an idea occurred to me that was, I thought, something that would put the environment into the political spotlight once and for all." He proposed a conservation tour to President Kennedy, and in September 1963 President Kennedy embarked on a conservation tour of the United States. The tour did not succeed in putting conservation onto the political agenda.

During the 1969 anti Vietnam war protests and teach-ins, Senator Gaylord Nelsonn came up with an idea. "Why not organize a huge grassroots demonstration a teach-in that would focus on what was happening to our environment?"

At a Seattle conference in September 1969, Senator Gaylord Nelson announced "a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment". Everyone was invited to participate in this demonstration the following spring. He recalls that "The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air - and they did so with spectacular exuberance. For the next four months, two members of my Senate staff, Linda Billings and John Heritage, managed Earth Day affairs out of my Senate office."

On November 30, 1969 the New York Times carried a lengthy report on environment issues. By this time, public concern about the environment had become huge. Gladwin Hill reported that:
"Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation's campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam...a national day of observance of environmental being planned for next spring...when a nationwide environmental 'teach-in'...coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned...."

Senator Gaylord Nelson's initiative was a huge success. On April 22, 1970, "twenty million Americans participated in the first Earth Day. They demonstrated for a clean, sustainable planet. Earth Day became an annual national event where eco-activists could voice their concerns about environmental issues. The results of the first Earth Day have been significant and included the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the passing of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts.

One of the most remarkable features of the first Earth Day was that the event was virtually un-organised. In Senator Gaylord Nelson's words, "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."

Since 1990, Earth Day has become an event celebrated in many countries around the world. Since 2000, the focus has turned towards global warming.

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