Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, appalled by the destruction of the Santa Barbara oil spill and the fire on Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River in 1969 and inspired by the energy of the youth involved in the anti-war movement, came up with the idea of a national day of recognition of our environmental health. Nelson recruited a conservation-minded Republican, Pete McCloskey, to serve as his co-chair for this action and Denis Hayes from Harvard University to be national coordinator.
On April 22, 1970, (a day between exams and spring break), 20 million Americans made their voices heard in rallies and protests with concerns about regaining a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The cry went out against polluting factories, pesticides, freeways, extinction of wildlife and all other manner of degradation of not only the planet but of public health in general.
In those days, both Democrats and Republicans recognized the bipartisan nature of nature, so to speak. It was a concern across the demographic spectrum as well. By the end of that year, we witnessed the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Water, Clean Air and Endangered Species Acts.
My mother took us to an Earth Day presentation at the Hollywood Bowl, I believe it was, back around 1974. I was 14 and had already come to greatly respect and appreciate the natural world around me and understand the inequalities of society in regards to pollution.
This rally got me so stoked! I attended the first year of the Yosemite Institute Program (which Cambria fifth-graders have attended for decades), got even more inspired and joined Yosemite environmental groups, the Sierra Club, started studying research reports and, in 1977, marched on Diablo Canyon (before Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt got arrested, or there was any “entertainment” for that matter), continuing to raise my concerns and my voice.
When Earth Day came into being, Mom, being a Depression-era kid, said, “I don’t know – we’ve always had to recycle everything! It just makes sense!” And indeed we did have newspaper drives to recycle them, repaired everything we could or reused everything we could. The recycling programs that slowly, slowly developed made it so much easier. But, like so many things, if you weren’t raised that way or you do something for so long, you take it for granted or get lazy about it and the good habit drops by the wayside.
Not to mention the all-out assault on the environment these days as corporate money has done away with the democracy the United States is supposed to be by buying more politicians than they historically have done and tried to silence our voices of concern, cleverly trying to brainwash the masses against the realities of global warming, fracking and all other manner of destruction, future generations be damned.
That initial environmental movement, the creation of Earth Day by a politician can be credited with the growth of the modern environmental efforts. Worldwide activities (think climate summits) lend proof to what everyday men and women know in their hearts: that we have only one planet that we share, equally and we must protect it.
Earth Day is April 22. But really, isn’t every day Earth Day? How do you honor Mother Earth in your daily activities?