Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day, ya'll!

Today, April 22, marks the birth of the environmental movement in 1970 in the U.S. During the early 1960's the attitudes of many Americans concerning the environment began to change. No longer were they thinking of the Earth's natural resources as limitless and using them as without consequences. This was particularly evident with the controversy that erupted after the publishing of marine biologist Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962. When the Apollo astronauts photographed the Earth from space in 1968 the image brought home the fragile nature of the planet. Close on the heals of this event was the 1969 industrial accident in Ohio Cuyahoga River, where the industrial runoff caught fire and spurred many to action. This action resulted in the U.S. Congress passing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that established a national policy that encouraged harmony between man and nature. The U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam added yet another layer, no so much to the environment itself but instead challenging the status quo on public policy and human rights. When you boil it down, the environmental movement includes conservation and green politics and actions. It advocates for sustainable management through public policy and individual behavior. And while there is no central organizing force behind it there are various organizations, in a range of sizes, that promote awareness, work with local and national figures, and educate the public through events.

Earth Day started with Gaylord Nelson, a U.S., senator from Wisconsin. Nelson was a conversationalist who had witnessed the ravages of the massive 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, and was someone who knew how to inspire the youth of America into action. In late 1969, he announced there would be a national "environmental teach-in," which resulted in 20 million Americans taking to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to protest against oil spills, industrial pollution, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, habitat loss, and other environmental degradation. It was the first Earth Day event. It was a nationwide demonstration for concern for the environment involving thousands of schools and communities. It was followed by the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, then the Clean Air Act, then the Clean Water Act in 1972, and the Endangered Species Act in 1973. During this time new groups such as Greenpeace, formed in Canada in 1971, and existing organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, formed in 1951, the Sierra Club, and the National Audubon Society adopted and/or promoted these principles as well as bringing legal action against companies that destroyed the land and resources. By the late 1980's, individuals had gotten into the movement by living greener and establishing things like local recycling programs. Earth Day had a resurgence in the 1990's, this time it was global, with the participation of 200 million people and 141 countries. In 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environmental Development (UNCED), or Earth Summit, an unprecedented number of governments and NGO's agreed on a program to promote sustainable development, and then U.S. President Bill Clinton was prompted to award the Medal of Freedom (the highest honor given to civilians in the U.S.) to Gaylord Nelson. In the early 2000's the environmental movement focused on global warming and clean energy, using the Internet or organize activists. Today we find ourselves embroiled in controversy once again with climate change deniers, lobbyists, reticent politicians, and a disinterested public. But concern by many for the environment and especially interest in green energy is keeping the movement alive.

Want to know more about Earth Day events near you, no matter what part of the world you live in? Check out the EPA's Earth Day page:

Here are a few more Earth Day websites I recommend checking out:

Learn more of the history behind Earth Day here:

(image from
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