41 years of Earth Day

Earth Day is 41 this year and to be quite honest, it nearly slipped by me.
I’m not too sure what it is – maybe there are too many enviro-themed days now stealing some of its previous green thunder and perhaps some are too corporate/profit driven which has taken the grassroots “power to the people” shine off days of action.
However, in among the tangle of days, it would be a shame not to recognize Earth Day for what it started in terms of environmental action and the person behind the event.
The first “official” Earth Day occurred on April 22, 1970; but its roots were years before that.

The founder of Earth Day was Senator Gaylord Nelson, who passed away in 2005. Senator Nelson proposed a precursor concept to President John. F Kennedy in 1963. It didn’t gain traction right away, but Senator Nelson continued to stew on an idea to bring environmental issues into the political mainstream.

The idea came to him in 1969 after seeing Vietnam war protests and “teach-ins”. According to a page written by the Senator on the topic, he thought “why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?”

In September of 1969, he announced that that in the spring of the following year there would be a nationwide grassroots protest regarding the environment.

Such an announcement from a politician received a good deal of publicity and on the first Earth Day, 20 million Americans participated. That was an amazing turnout considering we’re talking pre-Internet days and at that point the population of the USA was around 180 million.

Such a show of solidarity could not be ignored – politicians took note and several important pieces of legislation to help protect the environment were passed soon after; including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and  Endangered Species Act.

In regard to the first Earth Day, Senator Nelson said they didn’t have resources to organize the millions of people who participated, and that aspect “was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.”

Times have certainly changed. Earth Day is now a highly organized event. Earth Day Network says over a billion people now participate in Earth Day activities annually. Earth Day Network has chosen A Billion Acts of Green® (note the registered trademark – sigh) as the theme for Earth Day 2011.

Anyway, however you spend it or have spent it, I hope you have/had a good one.