Earth Day: A brief history

Earth in hand

Each year, April 22nd is a reminder of the responsibility we have to be stewards of the planet on which we live. Earth Day reminds us of the environmental issues that may not always be at the forefront of all conversations. But how did it start? And who do we have to thank for bringing environmental issues into the national spotlight?

Senator Gaylord Nelson- courtesy of www.nelsonearthday.net

Senator Gaylord Nelson- courtesy of www.nelsonearthday.net

In 1970, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson was inspired to generate national environmental enthusiasm after witnessing an oil spill in California. At the time, very little legislation existed regarding environmental protection and the idea of taking action to protect the natural world was just beginning to gain momentum. Nelson thought that the best way to do this was to channel the power of student energy.  The idea for this new holiday sprouted as the 60s came to a close.

So why April 22nd? Earth Day is in spring, a season when we are reminded of the beauty of the Earth and given a renewed appreciation of it, but it still seems to be a rather arbitrary choice. According to earthday.org, Nelson and his team’s reasoning for this specific date was that it falls right in between spring break and final exams for most colleges and universities, making it an ideal time to get students involved.

Today it seems as though this choice of date was successful, as was creating a holiday in order to promote enthusiasm and action surrounding the environment. Countries all over the world celebrate Earth Day and the anniversary of the start of the environmental movement.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 was revolutionary in allowing governmental regulation of air pollution and was enacted the same year as the first celebration of Earth Day.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 was revolutionary in allowing governmental regulation of air pollution and was enacted the same year as the first celebration of Earth Day.

Later that same year, the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts were all passed and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was founded. What Earth Day did and continues to do is create a sense of unity. So much political action was taken because a celebration of the Earth provided a platform for different organizations concerned with different environmental issues to unite under a common appreciation of the planet’s well being.

What’s most interesting to me about Earth Day, other than it being a celebration of student power and the anniversary of the environmental movement, is that it was a completely nonpartisan issue. Democrats and Republicans alike worked to make this holiday happen and to make sure legislation was passed to initiate environmental protection.

Today Earth Day is widely claimed to be celebrated by over a billion people in 192 countries.  

How will you celebrate?

JULIA ZEH