April 22 has been known as Earth Day since 1970. Back then, environmental issues had no voice in American politics. In 1990, the celebration went global. In current years, it’s estimated than 1 billion people celebrate Earth Day.
1. Before the first Earth Day, environmental awareness began with warnings about pesticides and a massive oil spill.
Published in 1962, Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, first warned the public about the health effects of pesticides on animals and humans. The chemical industry was not amused.
In 1969, a massive Santa Barbara, Calif., oil spill garnered extensive news coverage. There were images of wildlife soaked in oil.
These events led to the American public’s first glimpses toward awareness for ecological issues, and Wisconsin Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson took notice.
2. Earth Day began in response to the lack of attention the government gave to environmental issues such as pesticides and oil spills.
The first Earth Day happened in 1970, founded by Wisconsin Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson. Nelson wondered why the political realm didn’t focus on environmental issues, again, in light of Carson’s book and the California oil spill. He had actually worked on the idea of a mass environmental movement since 1962. With the rise of the anti-Vietnam War movement, Nelson witnessed the effect of “teach-ins” or demonstrations. Nelson believed that, in the same way, he could help energize fellow Americans to show their protest for what was happening to their planet.
In How the First Earth Day Came About, cited at Envirolink, Nelson wrote,”Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.”
3. Earth Day gets credit for bringing all sorts of environmental issues to light.
Americans have long been married to wasteful consumerism. Landfills started in the 1940s and ’50s so unwanted items could be easily tossed aside — and forgotten.
Widespread curbside collections for recyclables began in the 1980s as a response to keeping the landfills from filling up too quickly.
These days, most cities in the United States have made recycling a requirement. Now, there are many facilities that will even take electronics for recycling.
4. Before Earth Day, most Americans had never heard about recycling.
It’s not that recycling didn’t exist before the beginning of Earth Day celebrations in 1970… Archaeological evidence shows that ancient peoples like the Romans practiced forms of recycling, like by transforming bronze Roman coins into statues. However, according to All-Recycling-Facts.com, recycling waxes and wanes in societies depending on a supply versus demand basis. In America, recycling wasn’t part of the culture then like it is now.
5. The Earth Day Celebration has grown exponentially.
The first Earth Day was celebrated by 20 million Americans in a variety of large cities throughout the nation, especially at college campuses. Through the years, it gained global momentum. In 1990, The Earth Day Network, a nonprofit organization that coordinates Earth Day activities, reports that 200 million people in over 140 nations participated that year. In 2009, it was thought that 1 billion people participated in Earth Day.
Perhaps Earth Day in more modern times isn’t as politically-charged as in the 1970s but Earth Day now means that people pledge to do something ‘green’ on April 22 like clean up a local park or plant a garden.