Forty-seven years ago, millions of Americans, many of them students from elementary to college age, held rallies and organized cleanup efforts across the country to protest pollution and wildlife extinction, the most obvious manifestations of the degradation of the Earth’s environment.
April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, is widely recognized as the beginning of the American public’s education in environmental issues, whose importance has only grown in the years since.
According to the Earth Day website, the idea for a national day of focus on the environment came to Gaylord Nelson, a former Democratic senator from Wisconsin, who had seen the damage caused by a massive oil spill off Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1969.
Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment,” persuaded Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey to serve as co-chairman and recruited Denis Hayes, a student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, as the national coordinator. Hayes assembled a staff to promote events across the country, and chose April 22 as the date because it fell between spring break and final exams.
The first event drew nationwide media attention, including an hour-long prime-time special on CBS hosted by Walter Cronkite. “A unique day in American history is ending — a day set aside for a nationwide outpouring of mankind seeking its own survival, Earth Day,” Cronkite said, his words eerily prescient. “A day dedicated to enlisting all the citizens of a bountiful country in a common cause of saving life from the deadly byproducts of the bounty.”
According to www.livescience.com, Earth Day went global in 1990, with 200 million people in 141 countries taking part. Ten years later, some 5,000 environmental groups and citizens of 184 countries participated, and this year, the 48th Earth Day was once again observed worldwide, with more information on the planet’s challenges available than ever before, thanks to the internet and social media. Recycling, going green and becoming eco-friendly have now become part of our consciousness and vernacular.
The day on which we focus most intently on those ideals has passed, but with so much at stake as the planet continues to warm, our efforts must continue. Start an initiative of your own, or join a nationwide effort — for example, the National Wildlife Federation’s offer of free trees to any groups or organizations that apply for them. The planting of trees helps clean our skies, temper our climate and create wildlife habitats.
Instead of jumping in the car, ride a bike or walk to your destination if you can. And the next time you’re moving at a crawl on the Southern State Parkway, look around you and note how many drivers are alone in their vehicles. Carpooling to work helps.
Other environmentally friendly practices require only common sense. Turn off lights and computers when they’re not in use. Take shorter showers. Volunteer with other members of your community to help clean up the trash that winter has left along our streets and roads.
These things can be done every day, as any environmentally aware kindergartner can tell you. He or she probably learned something new in last week’s run-up to Earth Day. Chances are, there was a banner hung somewhere in that classroom that inspired chants and choruses, and perhaps a motivating idea that will last a lifetime: “Every day is Earth Day!”