In 1962 Rachel Carson penned her bestselling book "Silent Spring" which gave birth to the modern environmental movement, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries. Ms. Carson raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and public health.
We were pumping leaded gas through full sized vehicles with large V8 engines. Factories belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal action or negative publicity. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of success. "Environment" was a word that foreign to most Americans.
Earth Day originated as a result of an idea perceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Sen. Nelson had seen the effects of a massive oil spill near Santa Barbara, California. He had been witnessing the student anti-war movement; he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a "national teach-in on the environment" to the national media; persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair; and recruited Denis Hayes as national coordinator. Hayes built a national staff of 85 to promote events across the nation.
As a result, on the 22nd of April, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies.
Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.
Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. "It was a gamble," Gaylord recalled, "but it worked."
Media coverage of the first Earth Day included a one-hour primetime CBS News psecial report called "Earth Day: A Question of Survival", with correspondents reporting from a dozen major cities across the country, and narrated by Walter Cronkite. Pete Seeger was a keynote speaker and performer at the event held in Washington, D.C. Paul Newman and Ali McGraw attended the event held in Manhattan.
18 Facts about Earth Day
1. Earth Day first began on April 22, 1970, when 20 million people across the United States participated in rallies celebrating nature and decrying activities that put it at risk.
2. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin, came up with the idea for Earth Day in 1969. Inspired by the anti-Vietnam War "teach-ins" that took place at college campuses all over the nation, Nelson envisioned a large-scale environmental demonstration that would catch the attention of the federal government.
3. Nelson was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role as founder of Earth Day. Along with Harvard student Denis Hayes, Nelson went on to found the Earth Day Network.
4. In New York, then-Mayor John Lindsay shut down part of Fifth Avenue to speak at a rally, and in Washington, D.C., Congress went into recess so its members could talk to their constituents about the environment at Earth Day events.
5. Earth Day had an immediate impact. By the end of the year, the United States saw some of its first major political efforts to protect the environment, including the founding of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
6. Within five years, the EPA had banned the insecticide DDT and Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act and set emissions and efficiency standards for vehicles.
7. The first Earth Day also changed public attitudes. According to the EPA, "Public opinion polls indicate that a permanent change in national priorities followed Earth Day 1970. When polled in May 1971, 25 percent of the US public declared protecting the environment to be an important goal, a 2,500 percent increase over 1969."
8. By 1990, Earth Day was celebrated across the globe by 10 times as many people 200 million.
9. There are actually two Earth Days. The second is the Spring Equinox Earth Day, which originated in San Francisco. Conservationist John McConnell chose March 21 because he felt it represented equilibrium and balance. McConnell founded the Earth Society Foundation, which organizes this event.
10. The Spring Equinox Earth Day Event is still held annually. Ever since the United Nations signed the Earth Day Proclamation written by McConnell in 1970, the Earth Society Foundation has rung the U.N. Peace Bell at U.N. Headquarters in New York to mark the occasion.
11. San Francisco's role in Earth Day is particularly fitting, given the origins of its name. The city is named after Saint Francis, who was the patron saint of ecology.
12. In 2009, the United Nations designated April 22 to be International Mother Earth Day.
13. Among people who oppose environmental action, a rumor has spread that April 22 was chosen because it's the birthday of Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union. In 2004, Capitalism Magazine posited that environmentalists share Lenin's goal of destroying private property.
14. In reality, the date was chosen in 1970 simply because it fell on a Wednesday, when organizers believed that many people would be able to get out of work to participate.
15. Many cities have turned Earth Day into a week-long celebration with events that educate children about the environment and encourage greater participation by the community in local green causes.
16. The Earth Day Network works with hundreds of thousands of schools around the globe, helping to integrate environmental themes into the curriculum to ensure that Earth Day has a year-round, lasting impact.
17. More than 94 million people have pledged "Acts of Green" through the Earth Day Network, sharing how they plan to make a difference for the environment.
18. By 2010, Earth Day's 40th anniversary, more than 1 billion people in more than 180 countries around the world were estimated to have celebrated, whether by attending events or simply spreading the word on Facebook.
So as we observe Earth Day 2013 take a moment to consider what YOU can do to help the environment.
Five Things YOU can do to help the environment
Begin to recycle if you don't already do so.
Switch to energy-efficient light bulbs.
Follow suggested procedures on ozone action days.
Teach a child about the environment and how to protect it.