IDEAS For Us | April 21, 2016

The History of Earth Day

For over 4 decades, Earth Day has been observed as a meaningful opportunity to honor the planet and increase environmental awareness. It all started on April 22, 1970. Senator Gaylord Nelson saw the need to address the importance of protecting our environment. At this time pollution and emissions from gas guzzling cars and oil burning plants were not acknowledge as a threat to the Earth and/or human health. There were many factors that played a role in Senators Nelson decision to enact Earth Day but the one event that put him over the edge was witnessing the aftermath of an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. He then noticed the tremendous energy and drive from the anti-Vietnam war protesters and thought what if that energy could be directed at stopping pollution and motivating people to protect our environment while getting environmental protection on the national political agenda.

Nelson assembled his team, including Congressmen Pete McCloskey and Harvard Scholar Denis Hayes, to begin creating and promoting events nationwide for Earth Day 1970. The date was strategically chosen in order to cater to college students who were just getting back from spring break but still had free time before finals came around in May. The inaugural event had an overwhelming turnout of over 20 million people across the country at thousands of universities, colleges, and communities across the country. This was a day that helped organizations that were working against oil spills realize that organizations that were working against power plants and raw sewage shared similar goals and could work together for the greater good of our ecosystem and environment. It also brought together groups of people that are usually not seen working together like republicans and democrats or farmers and city slickers, creating a forum for people to begin a fight against things that negatively impact our environment.

Now after being around for nearly 50 years Earth Day continues to grow reach more people and making a larger impact each year.