Each year on April 22, the nation celebrates the birth of the modern environmental movement. This is known as Earth Day. People across the country take extra care on this day to be environmentally conscious. People bike to work instead of drive, set up to pay bills electronically instead of with paper, volunteer to be a part of different community service projects like planting trees, cleaning parks, etc. These activities gather huge crowds all over the globe, and from 2010 to 2012, the Earth Day Network planted over one billion trees in its Earth Day efforts. The holiday is huge, but how did it get started?
Earth Day began back in 1970, when the world was in the middle of a war in Vietnam that was hotly debated. Before then, the world was hardly concerned about the impact the industrial age was having on the planet, but people had started to take notice at the turn of the decade. One of these people was Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. He had recently seen the destruction of a massive oil spill and wanted to make a change. He was inspired by the anti-war movements of students across the country - if only he could take that same energy and apply it to an environmental consciousness. If he was able, he could push environmental preservation into the national spotlight. He partnered with other conservation-minded politicians and launched a national campaign to promote events throughout the nation, all on April 22.
The response was amazing. On its first occurrence in 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, participating in rallies, protests, and other events to help bring to light the issues facing our planet. Groups across the environmental spectrum realized they share similar goals and for one day, they were able to make a difference. By the end of that year the United States government created the United States Environmental Protection Agency and passed the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. The day was celebrated each year, but it wasn’t until 1990 that another big campaign took place, this time it took place on a global scale including 141 countries and over 200 million people.
The celebrations of Earth Day worldwide have grown in scale and elaborateness. More and more people participate each year, but environmentalism isn’t enjoying the same growth. One day of the year dedicated to environmental awareness is not enough to make a significant difference in the problems that our planet faces. Each of us has the ability to make small but meaningful changes to the impact we leave on the world. A lot of the things that we are encouraged to do as a part of our Earth Day observance are things that can be done more frequently, like carpooling to work or recycling. We can keep the lights off in our home when natural light is sufficient for our needs, take a technology break to cut down on energy use, or take a nature walk to better understand what it is that we are trying to preserve. There is a lot that we can do to better our environment and April 22 is a great day to start!