April 22, 2020
Today, Wednesday, April 22, 2020, we celebrate Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary. Here is a little history of how it all got started, plus some short quizzes about our planet at the end of this message.
Conservation was just a fledgling movement, when Wisconsin U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson arrived in Washington in 1963. His interest was sparked in part by Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring, (click to read more about Silent Spring) which warned against the harmful effects of widespread pesticide usage—a part of the national discourse. After witnessing the aftermath of an oil spill in California in 1969, Nelson doubled down on his commitment to raising environmental awareness. He enlisted support from both sides of the political spectrum, and on April 22, 1970, Earth Day was born. It was the same year, the Cuyahoga River, near Cleveland, Ohio, choking with chemical contaminants, had spontaneously burst into flames. Earth Day began as a “national teach-in on the environment” and was held on April 22, 1970 to maximize the number of students that could be reached on university campuses. THE FIRST EARTH DAY SAW 20 MILLION AMERICANS TAKE TO THE STREETS.
After April 22, 1970, with bipartisan support in Congress and thousands of civic demonstrations across the country, support for environmental reform in 1970 was undeniable. According to the EPA, “Public opinion polls indicate that a permanent change in national priorities followed Earth Day 1970. When polled in May 1971, 25 percent of the U.S. public declared protecting the environment to be an important goal, a 2500 percent increase over 1969.”
The 1970s saw the passage of the most comprehensive environmental legislation in U.S. history, including the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. In addition, just eight months after the first Earth Day, Richard Nixon (Republican President) approved the creation of a new organization tasked with monitoring the nation’s natural assets: The Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA).
News clip with Walter Cronkite, about the first Earth Day: https://youtu.be/WbwC281uzUs
In 1990, Earth Day’s 20th anniversary expanded to include countries and peoples across the globe, with 200 million people in 141 nations getting involved. Also, in 1990, just two days before the 20th Earth Day, President George H.W. Bush (Republican President) made a trip to Birmingham to present Birmingham-Southern College Conservancy a Point of Light award. During his presentation of the award, President Bush gave praise to the students, faculty, and staff for working with their local communities to help clean up Birmingham. “By enlisting elementary schools in neighborhood beautification efforts and working with the Cahaba River Society to involve inner-city youngsters in cleanup efforts,” Bush said, “you are not only working to enhance our environment, you’re also imparting your love for nature and concern for its well-being to the environment’s future custodians, our youngest citizens.” President Bush also signed his proclamation to declare April as National Recycling Month. A year later under his administration, a stronger Clean Air Act passed.
Every year on April 22, men, women and children collect garbage, plant trees, clean up coral reefs, and plan for a better future for our planet. This year on Earth Day, 2020, we are fighting COVID-19 by staying home. There is ongoing research that suggests destruction and disruption of earth’s fragile ecosystems and animals that live in these ecosystems, could be partly responsible for COVID and other viruses. The theme for Earth Day 2020 is: Climate action, the enormous challenge — but also the vast opportunities of action on climate change, have distinguished the issue as the most pressing topic for the 50th anniversary.
Try out your knowledge with these five short quizzes:
Note from Michelle: The environmental movement has a personal side for me. In 1970-1971, I was a senior with our high school debate team in Kansas. The topic to be debated that year was: Resolved: That the federal government should establish, finance and administer programs to control air and/or water pollution in the United States. At each tournament we had to debate both sides of this argument. At the beginning of the year, debating that changes needed to be made to policy, had many advantages over the side that government was already doing enough. It was easy to find examples of rivers burning, chemicals spilled, air pollution and lots of cases of pollution and destruction to convince debate judges that the government needed to establish better programs to control air and water pollution. In December 1970, suddenly the debate strategy flip-flopped to favor the status-quo argument instead of the need changes and better programs argument, when President Nixon signed an executive order to create an independent agency to regulate the environment – the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (The status-quo had changed with the creation of the EPA)