While I’ve been working from home, I’ve been thinking about the dozens of social festivities that would normally be happening during this time of the year. Now obviously, this year is anything but normal, but I’ve been doing some reflecting about one festivity in particular and that is Earth Day. Earth Day is one of my favorite “holidays”, not just because I studied environmental science in school or work for an environmental nonprofit – these play an important role too – but because this day gives me hope. It’s a testament to the importance of activism in the United States and the power of environmental education.
And this year is particularly noteworthy, not just because we’ll be celebrating it in a more solitary fashion than in years past, but because it’s the 50th anniversary of Earth Day celebrations. April 22, 1970, marks the birth of the modern environmental movement and gave a voice to the rising environmental concerns that humans were hurting the planet. In the decades leading up to the first Earth Day, humans consumed vast amounts of leaded gas and industry emitted dirty, atmospheric warming gases into the air. For many, this was a sign of economic prosperity showing the progress that the nation was making. What most Americans were oblivious to were the extreme health risks that went hand in hand with this sort of development.
In 1962, Rachel Carson published her historic book Silent Spring, giving America a necessary wake-up call. The book raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment, and the clear links between pollution and public health. It was a shock to the nation. Carson received backlash for publishing the book and passed away before she could see the impact of her work.
The book inspired millions of environmentalists across the United States including members of Congress who wanted to host a teach-in event in the spring of 1970 about the things happening to our planet. The event was inspired by the student-lead anti-war movement which is why I find Earth Day to be so inspiring.
While I was in school I was involved in many activist movements myself so to know that students before me laid the foundation for so many landmark policies gives me hope in my activism. The first Earth Day inspired over 20 million Americans which at the time was 10% of the total population to take to the streets to demonstrate against the 150 years of industrial development that was crippling the environment.
The first Earth Day was special. It brought together people from all walks of life, Democrats and Republicans, the rich and the poor, urban and rural folks, businesses and labor groups. By the end of the year, Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency with many landmark pieces of environmental legislation in the years following including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.
Even though we can’t all come together this year, check out some of these virtual opportunities to join the world in celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It’s important that even in this difficult time to remember the power of activism and its impact on future generations. Earth Day is a perfect example of this power.