Earth Day is celebrate on April 22 each year. It began in 1970 as a movement to educate the public about environmental issues. The first Earth Day intended to raise awareness of pollution and to bring environmental issues into the national spotlight. Numerous pieces of national legislation grew out of this grassroots celebration, including the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substance Control Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. It also led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Since the early 1960s, there had been growing concern for the environment among the American public. Rachel Carson and her 1962 book, Silent Spring, warned of the dangers of pesticides on our environment. In 1960, Jane Goodall began her study of a chimpanzee community in Tanzania, Africa, by living among the chimpanzees. In 1965, National Geographic televised the documentary, Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees. Articles in The National Geographic Magazine on the research of Dian Fossey among the mountain gorillas of Rwanda first appeared in January, 1970.
Beginning in 1966, episodes of conservationist Jacques Cousteau's documentary series, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, aired on ABC television. The series continued throughout the late 1960s until 1975. They focused on the marine diversity in our seas and the need to protect that diversity.
During the late 1960s, there was a Back to the Land movement among some members of the countercultural community. From this movement came the publication of The Whole Earth Catalogue in 1968. In addition, a growing concern over nuclear energy and underground nuclear weapons testing led to the founding of Greenpeace International in 1971 and other environmental organizations.
Two events in 1969 became the final impetus for Earth Day: the massive Cuyahoga River fire outside Cleveland, Ohio, and the large oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. These gave Congress the impetus to create the Environmental Protection Agency in 1969. Inspired by the Civil Rights and Anti-war movements, United States Senator, Gaylord Nelson decided that it was time for a mass environmental movement. This would give leaders an occasion to educate the public and call for changes that would lead to a healthy sustainable environment.
April 22, 1970 was the first Earth Day. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "20 million people (in the United States) participated, many of them at schools, colleges, and universities. The event was instrumental in gaining support for the series of environmental legislation that passed through the U.S. Congress in the 1970s, including the Clean Air Act (1970) and the Endangered Species Act (1973)."
Every year for the past forty-nine years, millions around the globe have participated in the activities and events of Earth Day. These efforts have prompted businesses to partner with environmental organizations around the world. Recently Full Sail University joined with the Nature Conservancy to launch "The Monarch Initiative." Its mission is "to increase awareness of the value of nature in our lives and encourage conservation action" ("Full Sail University Takes Flight").
Blog post originally appeared on Full Sail Connect, April 2018, written by Donald Royster, Library Technical Assistant.
From the American Museum of Natural History.