April 22ndmarks the anniversary of what many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. At the time,
Americans were gassing up V8 sedans. Industrial companies were emitting smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity.
Earth Day 1970 capitalized on the emerging consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement. The idea came to Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by 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. He was able to build a national staff of 85 to promote events across the land.
As a result, on the 22nd of April, 20 million Americans demonstrated in parks and auditoriums for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment.
Earth Day 1970 was a unique event, 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.
Leading up to 1990, a group of environmental leaders requested another significant campaign. This time Earth Day would go global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. It gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1995) — the highest honor given to civilians in the United States — for his role as Earth Day founder.
As the millennium approached, another campaign emerged, this time focusing on global warming and a push for clean energy. With 5,000 environmental groups in a record 184 countries reaching out to hundreds of millions of people, Earth Day 2000 combined the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990. The Internet was the medium to organize activists, but also a talking drum chain that traveled from village to village in Gabon, Africa, and hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Green Columbus coordinates the largest Earth Day volunteer effort in the country and hosts the largest dedicated celebration in central Ohio. For more information on the celebration at the Columbus Commons, visit Green Columbus. You can also check out the Columbus Zoo for educational programs for the little ones.