The History of Earth Day

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Many things happened in April of 1970 in the United States: President Richard Nixon signs the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, The Beatles broke up, the Apollo 13 mission was launched but had to be aborted days later, and the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22nd, 1970.

April 22nd marks the one year anniversary of a rare political alignment concerning the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. This event led to the  Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts, and has been officially named as Earth Day.

Before Earth Day was created, industries and factories could bellow thick smoke into the air or waste into waterways without any fear. These industries didn’t have to worry at all about bad press or even legal consequences. In fact, no one even seemed concerned about the environments’ condition at this time.

The Earth Day Network even wrote, “Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. ‘Environment’ was a word that appeared more often in spelling bees than on the evening news.”

Originally, Earth Day was planned on being celebrated on March 21st, the first day of Spring in the northern hemisphere. This was proposed by John McConnell but was later sanctioned by Secretary-General U Thant in the United Nations.

The United States Senator Gaylord Nelson later founded Earth Day in the states as environmental teach-ins. Nelson felt there was an alarming rate of industrialization and people had developed a careless attitude toward the environment, and the final straw for him was a major oil spill in 1969. Nelson today is considered the founder of Earth Day, and even was awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts.

It is estimated that 20 million people participated in these teach-ins and demonstrations for a healthy, sustainable environment throughout the United States. These demonstrations ranged from college protests to town rallies. The awareness of oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife were covered throughout the day.

Remarkably, Earth Day has become an international holiday and events are being held in over 193 countries with the help of the Earth Day Network. Next year will also mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and the Earth Day Network plans on launching an ambitious set of goals to shape the future of 21st-century environmentalism.

Anyone can get involved with this movement. If you visit the Earth Day Network’s website (earthday.org) you can sign up to participate in the movement or learn about nearby events.

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