The first Earth Day took place on April 22nd, 1970, in the United States, and involved peaceful protests across the country advocating for a healthier and more sustainable environment.
Mainstream America was largely unaware of the detriment the environment was facing due to the burning of fossil fuels, air pollution and resource overexploitation. A best selling book by Rachel Carson released in 1962 titled “Silent Spring” was a key component in the raising of public awareness concerning the environment, pollution and their relation to public health.
Americans had lots of fuel in their fire for change due to movements such as the anti-war one. In the US, at the time, young people nationwide were overwhelmingly opposed to the Vietnam War, and there were many protests during the 70’s.
Coupled with an emerging public environmental consciousness, Earth Day 1970 sought to channel all of that revolutionary energy into combatting environmental concerns.
At the forefront of this movement was founder of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson, who at the time was a US Senator. He was devastated by news that broke of a disastrous oil spill the previous year, and desired to have environmental protection at the front of the political agenda.
Senator Nelson, along with Republican Congressman, Pete McCloskey, and Denis Hayes from Harvard University organised the first Earth Day, under the premise of hosting a “national teach-in on the environment”. April 22 was chosen as the date, since it falls between spring break and final exams.
On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive rallies taking place across the country. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the destruction of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against various issues, from habitat loss, to animal welfare, to factory pollution suddenly realized they shared common values.
Issues of environmental protection at this time transcended party lines, with both Republicans and Democrats coming together to create the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts, by the end of 1970.
Closing in on its 50th Anniversary, Earth Day is now an international phenomenon, with over a billion people in countries around the world coming together every April 22nd to fight for the protection of our environment.
The fight for the health of the planet must continue everyday, as climate change’s effects become increasingly strong and irreversible, and our governments are reluctant to take concrete action.
Written by: India-Lynn Upshaw-Ruffner