April 22 – Earth Day – marks the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.
In 1970, the world experienced the last Beatles album, the death of Jimi Hendrix, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a raging Vietnam war, gas guzzling V8 sedans and air pollution.
Rachel Carson’s best selling book, “Silent Spring” was published in 1962 and while most Americans were not aware of environmental concerns, the stage was set for a radical environmental movement. Selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries, the book raised interest and awareness about the environment, living organisms and exposed links between public health and pollution.
Earth Day was created to give a voice that channeled energy for the anti-war Vietnam protest movements and further put environmental concerns on Americans’ radar.
Earth Day founder, Gaylord Nelson, was inspired to create a national day to focus on Mother Earth and the environment after a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969. Nelson quickly realized that if he could use the anti-war movement energy and combine it with public awareness about air and water pollution, it might make environmental concerns a national political issue. Using 85 staff members to help promote the event, they chose April 22 because it fell between Spring Break and Final Exams.
On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day event, taking to the streets, auditoriums and parks to demonstrate coast-to-coast rallies and promote sustainable environments that did not harm humankind. A variety of groups that shared universal values joined together, including those that fought against oil spills, wildlife extinction, loss of wilderness, polluting power plants and factories, toxic dumps, raw sewage, freeways and pesticides.
Achieving a rare political alignment from both Democrats and Republicans, farmers and city dwellers, wealthy and poor, labor leaders and tycoons, the first Earth Day helped create the United States Environmental Protection Agency, including the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.
In 1990, Earth Day went global, recruiting 200 million people in more than 141 countries, giving environmental issues a world stage. This event helped pave the way for the influential 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
Today, Earth Day is celebrated by over one billion people annually. This is recognized as a day and event that helps provoke policy change, especially as the fight for a clean environment continues to dominate pressing political issues.