By Charisse McAuliffe
The birth of the modern day environmental movement began on April 22, 1970 when a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin named Gaylord Nelson organized the first nationwide environmental protest. Little did he know at the time that for the next 39 years on April 22, environmentalists from around the world would come together to focus on Mother Earth as we celebrate Earth day.
In 1970 Americans, were using leaded gas in their sedans powered by V8 engines. Factories were exhausting absurd amounts of pollution into the air without any ramifications or even the fear of getting bad press, in fact air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity.
This was all about to change.
On that fateful day 39 years ago, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, on college campuses and in auditoriums to make their voices be heard that they wanted a healthier environment. In the past there were different groups that fought separately against things like oil spills and toxic dumps, loss of wilderness and extinction problems, but on this one day they all united and the light bulb turned on for them. Working together and in support of one another’s causes would be the key to making the level of change that was needed occur.
On that day a rare political alignment was achieved, both Republicans and Democrats were in support of the same issues. Business tycoons and labor unions agreed with one another, US citizens both rich and poor, city dwellers and farmers recognized the issues with the environment as being larger than their differences, and choose to work together. This led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and in turn the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts.
In the years to follow Senator Nelson would be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role as the founder of Earth day.
It was in 1990 when a group of environmental leaders enlisted Denis Hayes, one of the original organizers of the 1970 protest, to take the Earth day mission to the global stage. April 22, 1990 resulted in a monumental shift for the world. On that day there were over 200 million people mobilized in 141 countries. People across the globe woke up to the realization that we all may battle in war and we may differ in religious views, and not speak the same languages, but we all have one crucial thing in common, we have but one planet we all call home. After that specific Earth day celebration in 1990, the concept of recycling became an activity that households and businesses around the world would come to do adopt and accept as status quo. This event also helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
Ten years later and with the approach of the millennium, Hayes decided to spearhead the next monumental campaign. Earth Day 2000 would focus on global warming and clean energy. That April 22, the world awoke to festivities similar to the original Earth Day in 1970, combined with the international grass root effort of the 1990 event and now the power of the Internet to assist them in linking activist all over the planet. That year there were over 5,000 environmental groups around the world participating, reaching out to hundreds of millions of people throughout 184 countries.
Earth Day 2000 sent the message clearly to the powers that be, two things; global warming could no longer be ignored, and decisive action for clean energy would have to be pushed to the forefront.
Today the fight for a cleaner, more sustainable global environment continues. This is a battle that each of us wage every day. We are fighting it when we drag our filled recycling bins to our curbsides, and when we give our neighbors a ride to work. When we bring our own mug into the coffee shop, or we choose to pick up the piece of trash left behind on the sidewalk by someone before us. We have come a long way in the last 39 years, but yet there is still much work to be done.
On April 22nd, 2009, we took time to come together, celebrate what we have accomplished and educate about what still needs to be done. We must empower and motivate everyone from our next generations to rouge nations with the gift of consciousness and hope for the future.
GenGreenLife: History of Earth Day