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History of Earth Day

Madeline Rastall

Let’s think back to the year 1970. Or rather, let’s think about what 1970 was all about in the United States. It was the year the Beatles disbanded, the year Apollo 13 landed safely to Earth after stating the now-famous line, “Houston, we’ve had a problem”, and the year Boeing completed its first commercial flight from New York to London in their 747. These are all major events which deserve to be remembered, however the first thing that comes to my mind about 1970 is the beginning of the environmental movement.

Today, we don’t see factories dumping their waste into rivers, or giant clouds of black smoke leaving exhaust pipes. We don’t see landfills next to schools, or smog consuming city skylines. For this, we can thank Gaylord Nelson. Who is this Gaylord Nelson you may ask? He was a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin who grew tired of seeing one environmental tragedy after another. He watched the Cuyahoga River catch fire (yes, you read that right), the detrimental effects to children of the Love Canal, the Santa Barbara oil spill, and was fed up. On April 22nd , 1970, Nelson, along with his co-chair Congressman Pete McClosley, founded the first annual Earth Day. His intention was for it to be a “national teach-in on the environment.” With over 20 million Americans participating from coast to coast, it became more than a teach-in. Crowds grew so large, New York City’s 5th Avenue was shut down. Activists against oil spills, factory waste, forest degradation, and pesticides all banded together in protests and demonstrations as they recognized their common goal- a healthier environment for all.

The effects of April 22nd , 1970 were felt throughout the rest of the year. In December of 1970 the United States Environmental Protection Agency was created to “protect human health and the environment.”It led to the passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, which are still enacted and amended to this day. The rules and regulations created by the EPA have saved countless kids from swimming in lakes polluted with dangerous chemicals, prevented unnecessary deaths from lung disease caused by smog, and assured that waste of all kind is safely contained to preserve the health and safety of all.

So, this Earth Day, I encourage you to think about the progress that has been made with the environment since 1970. Think about our clean rivers and lakes. Think about the fuel-efficient vehicles manufactured solely to emit less emissions, the 5-cent refund you get at Target for bringing your own reusable bag. These changes happened because citizens raised their voices. They found common ground, came together and made change. Yes, we have come a long way since 1970, but that doesn’t mean we’ve done all we can do.

This Earth Day I challenge you to think about ways you can keep the progress going. Maybe you’ll start to remember to bring reusable bags into the store instead of forgetting them in your car. Maybe you’ll start to remember to turn lights off when you’re not in a room. Try searching Pinterest for a DIY with reusable materials. Go big and write a letter to your representatives, make a clever sign and bring it to an Earth Day March. Whatever you decide to do, keep in mind that we can’t limit these “greener”actions to April 22nd . Make it a habit and make Earth Day every day.


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