The creation of Earth Day rose from a need. There was a need in the United States for people to face the consequences of their actions, to make citizens aware of the harm caused by their pollution. There was a need to see industrialization, with its smokestacks and pipelines and endless highways, as more than just a money-maker. To bring those who were fighting the “well-funded lobbyists” and trying to educate the “disinterested public” together over one cause. This was the vision of Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, who, after witnessing the devastation caused by the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, decided that the United States needed a wake up call.
Inspired by the student anti-war movement, Nelson imagined Earth Day to be infused with the same vigor, only directed towards bringing environmental protection to the forefront of the nation’s political agenda – and that it did. Come April 22nd, 1970, nearly 20 million Americans across the nation rallied for the cause. People of all shapes and sizes, from Republicans and Democrats to rich and poor alike, came together. The message was received, and by the end of the year 1970, the U.S. had created the Environmental Protection Agency and passed the Clean Water, Clean Air, and Endangered Species acts.
This was all over 40 years ago. As we near the half century mark of celebrating Earth Day, it is important to reflect on how far we’ve come as well as recognize how far we still have to go.
Written by Teddi Shapiro, class of 2019