This post was originally published on April 21, 2015. In response, Librarian Aviva Adler shared her experience celebrating the first Earth Day in 1970:
As a teenager living in the Washington DC area, I volunteered with the EPA and helped with activities for the very first Earth Day. I made a tie-dye batik “earth day” flag (haven’t seen it in years, but I’m sure it’s in a box somewhere) in my parents’ kitchen. I stood on street corners with environmental literature, educating passers-by and asking for their support and signatures on petitions to pass environmental laws. I clearly remember having collected hundreds of signatures, and then handing my clipboard full of signatures to one man who took the clipboard and threw it into the Reflecting Pool … and I remember fishing it out and trying to salvage the signatures!
Earth Day is celebrated every year on April 22nd. The purpose of Earth Day is to bring awareness to environmental issues, lobby for environmental policies, and promote changes in human behaviors in order to maintain the ecosystem. Earth Day was first celebrated on April 22, 1970. Today, it is observed in more than 192 countries with more than 1 billion people participating. It is largest civil observance in the world.
The history of Earth Day is rooted in the social changes of the 1960’s. Prior to the mid-1960’s, there was little thought given to the environment. Air pollution, water contamination, and the pillaging of natural habitats were considered merely the by-product of industrial progress and human consumption. Few citizens or members of the media paid attention to the cost of environmental degradation.
It was the publication of the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson that began to change peoples’ outlook and raise awareness about environmental issues. The book presented the detrimental effects that pollution, pesticides, and industrial growth have on air quality, water quality, and wildlife. The book became a bestseller despite the chemical industry’s efforts to oppose the book’s arguments. Silent Spring helped lead to a ban on DDT pesticides and the creation of the Environmental Defense Fund.
As Silent Spring grew in popularity, the anti-war and hippie movement were also beginning to take root and blossom on college campuses. Although, most protests of the day centered on ending the Vietnam War, many students began taking an interest in environmental causes as well. At this time, a Wisconsin Senator named Gaylord Nelson witnessed the effects of a massive oil spill in California. Disturbed by what he saw, he decided to stage a teach-in to raise awareness about the impact that human activity and industry were having on the environment. Nelson, a Democrat, convinced Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey to be his co-chair for the teach-in. Together they were able to promote a bipartisan event that would appeal to all Americans regardless of political affiliations, beliefs, or background. They decided that Earth Day would occur on April 22nd in order to be convenient for college students and families – the day did not fall during exams or spring breaks, did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and allowed for outdoor demonstrations in decent weather.
On April 22, 1970, more than 20 million Americans demonstrated across the country in cities, parks, and schools for a cleaner, healthier environment. The event led to the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Water Act as well as the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Since 1970, Earth Day has grown in popularity and become a worldwide event.
Touro Library has the following books if you are interested in reading more:
Silent Spring by Carson, Rachel
Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson by Carson, Rachel
Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit By Gore, Albert
Advances in Environmental Research by Daniels, Justin A.
Source: Earth Day: The History of a Movement, from EarthDay.org
Contributed by: Annette Carr, Business Librarian, Broadway