37th annual Earth Day celebration - a brief history
What started out as a day to urge US politicians to pay attention to environmental issues today is celebrated in more than 175 countries worldwide.
Earth Day has been credited as the birth of the modern environmental and conservation movement, but it began as one man’s attempt to draw national attention to what he considered a potential environmental crisis.
Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, began his quest to create a specific day to focus on the earth in 1962.
According to his writings, he’d spent years feeling disturbed that the peril of the environment was a non-issue in the country’s politics.
In 1962, Nelson approached President Kennedy with a proposal to put the political spotlight on the environment by going on a conservation tour.
The President liked the idea, and in 1963, he went on a five-day, 11-state tour promoting conservation and the state of the environment.
Nelson wrote that the tour didn’t have the ultimate impact he’d hoped it would, but it did propel the concept of what eventually became Earth Day.
It took Nelson six more years of traveling around the country, speaking on conservation, before he came to Seattle where he had his epiphany.
In an era when anti-war protests were commonplace throughout the country’s college campuses, Nelson was struck with a vision to create a grassroots protest against the destruction of the environment.
“I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue into the political agenda,” Nelson wrote.
While still in Seattle, he announced that there would be a nationwide environmental demonstration in the spring of 1970.
The word spread like fire across the country and newspapers nationwide wrote about the upcoming demonstration. The response was greater than what Nelson had anticipated, and citizens began expressing their own concerns about the environment to the government.
On January 1, 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act was passed.
Congress adjourned for the day on April 22, 1970, while more than 20 million demonstrators turned out in more than two thousand colleges and universities and approximately ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States, all demanding a healthier and cleaner world.
Earth Day’s impacts on the political process were felt almost immediately with the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act all passing in the early 1970’s.