Next Tuesday is Earth Day.
Each year, Earth Day is celebrated to mark the anniversary of what some consider the birth of the modern environmental movement. It was 1970 and the “hippie” movement helped shepherd Earth Day into being. The world was a place of experimental existence. The year brought the death of Jimi Hendrix, the last true album by the Beatles and the peace anthem, “Bridge over Troubled Water,” by Simon & Garfunkel.
At the same time, America was at war in Vietnam. Students across the nation rose in protest. And our Earth was being polluted at a rate that didn’t seem to alarm anyone. That was, until the first Earth Day happened.
Americans were driving big gas-guzzling automobiles. Industrial factories were belching smoke and sludge into the air and water without any fear of the consequences. Environment was a word that had little or no meaning to most.
Around that time, Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring” was getting attention and people were beginning to awaken to the fact that our world was not a renewable resource and conservation needed to happen. The book represented a watershed moment for the modern environmental movement, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries and, up until that moment, more than any other person, Carson raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and public health.
In the spring 1970, U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day as a method of getting the nation to pay attention to how we were polluting our own country as well as the world. Twenty million Americans demonstrated in different U.S. cities.
Following that, in December of 1970, the U.S. Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
It may be hard to imagine that before 1970, a factory could spew black clouds of toxins into the air or dump tons of toxic waste into a nearby stream, and that was perfectly legal. There were no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment.
While sometimes bureaucracies keeps action from happening very fast, because of the first Earth Day, there are standards that must be followed to protect the environment.
It’s now 44 years later and young people today live in a world where recycling is just a part of everyday life. They know a world where businesses and governments have to abide by the law and cannot pollute. They know electric cars and green living.
There’s always more that can and should be done to keep our world clean. But this Earth Day we should take a moment to thank those who got the world’s attention back in 1970.
And, for more than just a day, we need to do our part to keep our environment healthy.