Earth Day has become a prominent event celebrated not just nationally, but internationally. Yet, this was not always the case. In fact, in history, Earth Day was far from a certainty not all that long ago, even if it has become a relatively big holiday celebrated globally nowadays.
The first Earth Day was held on Apr. 22, 1970, not long after the hippie and counterculture movements of the sixties. That year was a turbulent time in the United States. The war in Vietnam still raged, Jimi Hendrix died that year, The Beatles broke up, and students were killed at Kent University. There was still student activism and protests against the war. A lot of issues remained that effectively polarized the nation.
However, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin was moved into activism in a different sense, as he felt that one very critical issue was conspicuous in its absence on the national level. He had long been concerned about how environmental issues were not even seriously considered back in the early sixties. That began to change in 1962, shortly after the release of Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book, Silent Spring, which first brought awareness the notion of the damages that human activity was doing to the planet. That same year, Nelson met with President John F. Kennedy, as well as his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, about the possibility of the president doing a national conservation tour to promote environmental issues. They were both in favor of it.
Still, there was a long way to go. After Kennedy’s tour, Nelson still felt that something was needed to trigger environmental awareness on a national level, although he was not sure what that could be. Then, after witnessing the results of a huge oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, Nelson decided that something more needed to be done. He took inspiration from the energy of student activism of that era against the Vietnam War, and wanted to set something similar up to raise consciousness about pollution of air and water. He felt that if enough people became aware of these issues, then environmental protection would become a prominent issue nationally. Therefore, he took the idea of a national teach-in to promote increased awareness about environmental issues.
Nelson worked to raise awareness, coming up with the idea of one day in the spring that would be dedicated to raising awareness for environmental issues. At a conference in Seattle in September of 1969, he announced that there would be a day for a national grassroots movement to raise awareness, and he labored tirelessly until this dream of his came to fruition. He received bipartisan support for Earth Day 1970, and the momentum from that event itself eventually led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the passage of some important environmental legislation. These included the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. Nelson acknowledged that he had taken some huge risks, but felt satisfied with the successful results.
The Earth Day tradition continued after 1970, but it really began to grow much bigger in 1990. That was the year when several environmental agencies approached Denis Hayes about organizing something on a far bigger scale for Earth Day. For the first time in its history, Earth Day became an international event, as 200 million people in 141 different countries participated, helping environmental causes on a global scale. Two years later, there was a prominent environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro, attended by most countries. In 1995, Gaylord Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, although by then, Earth Day had taken on a life of its own and truly grown into a day celebrated around the world.
This year, there are many different celebrations recognizing Earth Day. There was a huge concert earlier today attended by thousands at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., featuring some very prominent names in music today. It was a free event from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. EST. Included in the lineup were Fallout Boy, Mary J. Blige, No Doubt, and Usher, who has an injured left leg, but still took the stage on a gold-colored crutch. Among some prominent officials slated to be there were some Congressman, as well as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Earth Day Network President Kathleen Rogers has suggested that a fight to eliminate poverty in the world cannot be achieved without first resolving key environmental issues and climate change. She expressed hope that the concert in Washington would help to raise awareness.
Earth Day celebrations are even getting a boost from popular video games this year, as the producers of the hugely successful Angry Birds is setting up a level that will be called Earth Day, and will seek to raise awareness using fun about environmental issues. Angry Birds has been downloaded almost three billion times online, and that kind of success and exposure could be helpful in raising environmental awareness and personal responsibility towards our planet. It is slated to be released this Wednesday, April 22, which will mark the official Earth Day.
Earth Day has a fascinating history, having grown from a small grassroots movement to something much bigger these days. It is now recognized as an unofficial holiday the world over. It has grown big enough that it receives considerable attention even well before the official Earth Day, and it has become a huge event for environmental advocacy groups, who use that day to promote increased awareness for environmental issues by organizing local events. President Obama, who wanted his second term to focus especially on environmental issues, will be pushing for stronger legislation to combat climate change on Earth Day. He argued that there is no bigger threat globally than rising temperatures.
By Charles Bordeau