Americans accumulated large amounts of leaded gas via massive and wasteful automobiles in the decades preceding the first Earth Day. Without regard for the consequences of the law or negative press, the industry coughed out smoke and wastes. Until recently, the majority of Americans were largely unaware of environmental concerns and the dangers that a polluted environment causes to human health.
The publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962, however, set the stage for change. The book was a watershed moment, selling over 500,000 copies in 24 countries and raising public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment, and the inextricably linked links between pollution and public health.
The First Earth Day
Earth Day is observed every year on April 22 to commemorate the beginning of the modern environmental movement in 1970.
Earth Day 1970 gave voice to a growing public awareness of the state of our planet —
Senator Gaylord Nelson, a junior senator from Wisconsin, had raised serious questions about the country’s deteriorating environment. Then, in January 1969, he and a large number of others witnessed the devastation caused by a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Senator Nelson was influenced by the student anti-war movement and wished to combine the energy of anti-war protests with a growing public awareness of air and water pollution.
Senator Nelson approached the national media with the idea of holding a teach-in on college campuses, and he persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair.
Recognizing the potential of the event to inspire all Americans, Hayes assembled a national staff of 85 to promote events across the country, and the effort quickly grew to include a diverse range of organizations, faith groups, and others. They renamed it Earth Day, which drew national attention and quickly spread across the country. Twenty million Americans were inspired by Earth Day. — 10% of the total US population at the time — to protest in the streets, parks, and auditoriums to protest the effects of a century and a half of industrial development, which had left an increasing history of negative human health implications.
Thousands of colleges and universities started protesting against environmental degradation, and there were massive rallies in cities, towns, and communities from coast to coast.
On Earth Day, groups and individuals came together to protest oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and wildlife extinction. Earth Day 1970 saw a rare political convergence, with Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban and rural residents, business and labor leaders all supporting it.
By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day had resulted in the establishment of the United States Environmental Protection Agency as well as the passage of other groundbreaking Environmental regulations such as the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act. The Clean Water Act was passed by Congress two years later. The Endangered Species Act was passed a year later, followed by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. These laws have saved the lives of millions of men, women, and children, as well as hundreds of species from extinction.