Earth Day April 22nd: A Day for Global Environmental Action

WRITTEN BY Damian Dalton

April 9, 2024

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Earth Day April 22nd: A Day for Global Environmental Action

Damian Dalton

9 Apr, 2024

Every year on April 22, Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.

In 2020, over 1 billion people worldwide participated in Earth Day actions, and 100 million observed the 50th anniversary in what is being referred to as the largest online mass mobilization in history.

More information on Earth Day 2024, its achievements and worldwide  projects and initiatives can be found here.

The History of Earth Day

The 70’s, marked a period where Americans were consuming vast amounts of leaded gas through massive and inefficient automobiles. Industry belched out smoke and grime with legal impunity and little fear of any public protest or opprobrium. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the price for prosperity.

However, the stage was set for change with the publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962. The book represented a watershed moment, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries as it raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and the inextricable links between pollution and public health.

Democrat Senator Gaylord Nelson, Wisconsin, had long been concerned about the deteriorating environment in the United States. In January 1969, he and many others witnessed the environmental disaster of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Emboldened by the student anti-war movement, Senator Nelson used the momentum of the student anti-war protests to heighten the  public consciousness about air and water pollution. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a teach-in on college campuses to the national media.

Senator Gaylord Nelson recruited Denis Hayes, a young activist, to organize the campus teach-ins and to scale the idea to a broader public, and they choose April 22, a quiet weekday between Spring Break and Final Exams, to maximize the greatest student participation.

 

With a staff of 85, Hayes promoted events across the U.S and the effort soon broadened to include a wide range of organizations, faith groups, and others.  They changed the name to Earth Day, which immediately sparked national media attention, and caught on across the country.  Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans  to take to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate against the impacts of 150 years of industrial development which had left a growing legacy of serious human health impacts.

On the first Earth Day, groups that had been fighting in isolation and uncoordinated were united in a common cause. Groups against oil spills, pollution, biodiversity loss and extinction, and environmental destruction realised the commonality of their objectives. Political divisions on the environment between Democrats and Republications were largely eliminated (in contrast to today) and a consensus to prioritise the environment emerged between city and country dwellers and business and labour leaders.

The first Earth Day left a significant legacy- the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of ground-breaking environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act. Two years later congress passed the Clean Water Act.

Today, more so than ever, we need to take inspiration from the early pioneers of the environmental movement, recognise what can be achieved by the actions of a dedicated few, and continue to promote public debate and support initiatives that will save and preserve our natural resources and the world.

 

 

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