Every year on April 22 we celebrate the most important day of the year for the environmental movement — Earth Day — and this year is the 50th Anniversary.
It’s time to channel the energy and excitement from the first Earth Day and be inspired by the credible community of people who are working locally for the health of our natural environment and prepare for the work ahead.
Join Green Foothills for the 50th celebration of Earth Day. We’re excited to hear from Co-founder of Earth Day and former Congressman Pete McCloskey and his wife Helen and a line up of inspirational speakers for our Virtual Earth Day. McCloskey recently wrote a book detailing his participation and the remarkable story of The Story Of The First Earth Day 1970: How Grassroots Activism Can Change Our World (purchase here). Don’t miss the chance to ask him questions, or any of the panelists, during the Q&A and also look forward to an inspirational performance by Chris Reed of Sunny State.
Looking Back on the Awakening of Public Consciousness in Favor of a Healthy Planet
Many events in the 1960’s led to the birth of Earth Day. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring spotlighted pesticides and its harmful effects on bird and animal populations. This book brought to light concern for living organisms, the environment and links between pollution and public health. Carson’s book highlighted how disconnected humans had grown from the natural world With over 500,000 copies sold in 24 countries at the time, many accredit her to giving the environmental movement it’s scientific backing.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy went on a speaking tour around the U.S. to raise awareness about environmental issues, inviting Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson to accompany him. Yet protecting the environment was still a low priority for most politicians and citizens.
Yet environmental leaders and activists continued to sound the alarm throughout the 1960s, sighting that air pollution in urban areas was reaching dangerous levels, impacting human health. In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio famously caught fire — in some places flames reached 5 stories high — due to all the sewage and hazardous wastes that were regularly dumped into it. This wasn’t the first time that the Cuyahoga River had caught on fire, but Americans were starting to pay attention.
After the horrific and massive oil spills in Santa Barbara in 1969, Senator Nelson seized the moment. Inspired by the anti-war movement on college campuses, he announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media. He asked former republican Congressman Pete McCloskey to serve as his co-chair and Denis Hayes from Harvard as national coordinator.
On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans rallied for a healthy sustainable environment. This was an issue all could stand behind bringing an unusual alignment from opposite political parties, economic class, and different cultures. A connectedness that was needed for the planet’s health was formed.
The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.
“The great environmental laws were all passed because those kids… turned out to turn the vote out to an apathetic public. It ushered in 24 years of bipartisan cooperation in the house and senate,” said former Congressman Pete McCloskey said (ABC 7 News quote).
Half a century later, the fight continues for a healthy planet. Now more than ever, we know that we need to protect our natural environment for the health of people today and future generations. Locally, our work protecting open space is crucial to the health of our region and more important than ever.