Earth Day, April 22, marks the anniversary of what many consider to be the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. Earth Day awareness has been stimulated and maintained with organized media outreach campaigns.
The 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s bestselling nonfiction book “Silent Spring” raised concern for the effects of the pesticide DDT on living things and the environment. It changed the way pesticides were used in the United States.
In 1969, an offshore oil platform pipeline blew out near Santa Barbara, releasing 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean. The spill had a significant impact on marine life in the Santa Barbara Channel, and brought national awareness to ocean pollution.
Later that year, at a UNESCO conference in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell introduced the idea of a global holiday to honor Earth and the concept of peace, to be celebrated on March 21, 1970, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. McConnell used a photograph of Earth from space as the symbol for the Earth Day flag.
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Around the same time, Sen. Gaylord Nelson proposed the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment.” Rep. Pete McCloskey served as committee co-chair, and Denis Hayes was hired as national coordinator to get the message out.
The campaign was embraced at colleges and universities throughout the U.S. Environmental groups that had previously been waging individual campaigns against oil spills, factory pollution, sewage dumping, toxic waste, pesticides and loss of wilderness habitat joined forces to promote shared environmental concerns.
On April 22, 1970, an estimated 20 million people across America demonstrated in rallies for a healthy, sustainable environment. Letter-writing campaigns stirred Republican and Democrat officials to take action. President Richard M. Nixon appealed to Congress to form the Council on Environmental Quality, which led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. Within three years, the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts were passed.
In 1990, another media campaign for Earth Day went global, paving the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. In 1995 President Bill Clinton awarded Gaylord Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role as Earth Day founder. Subsequent Earth Day campaigns have used social media efforts to heighten environmental awareness worldwide.
“Silent Spring” is still relevant today: Some marine mammals have high levels of DDT in their tissues, indicating that the pesticide is still used in other parts of the world.
You can participate in Earth Day locally this year at the Coastal Discovery Center at San Simeon Bay on April 18 by helping to improve native plant gardens, address trail erosion and prepare staging for a new outdoor exhibit. It is a collaborative project with Hearst San Simeon State Park, funded by a grant to support Earth Day.
To sign up, go to www.calparks.org/help/earth-day. Bring your own gardening tools. Fulfill that New Year’s resolution to do something good for the planet and celebrate the Earth!