When the first Earth Day was held in 1970, pesticides were killing bald eagles, and soot was darkening the sky. Now, habitat loss and climate change are imperiling the planet.
When Earth Day was first created in 1970, it rode the coattails of a decade filled with social activism. Voting rights were strengthened, civil rights were outlined, and women were demanding equal treatment.
But there was no Environmental Protection Agency, no Clean Air Act, or Clean Water Act.
Fast forward 48 years and what started as a grassroots movement has exploded into an international day of attention and activism dedicated to preserving the environment. Officially, the United Nations recognizes this upcoming April 22 as International Mother Earth Day.
Across the globe, millions of people take part in Earth Day. According to the Earth Day Network, one of the largest activist bodies organizing Earth Day events, people celebrate by holding marches, planting trees, meeting with local representatives, and cleaning up their local environments.
IN THE BEGINNING
A series of critical environmental issues helped birth the modern environmental movement. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring published in 1962. It brought to light the dangerous use of a pesticide called DDT that was polluting rivers and destroying the eggs of birds of prey like bald eagles.
When the modern environmental movement was at its genesis, pollution was in plain sight. White birds turned black from soot. Smog was thick. Recycling was nascent.
Then, in 1969, a large oil spill struck the coast of Santa Barbara, California. It moved then-Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin to put Earth Day on the national stage. More than 20 million people turned out.
It spurred a movement that pushed then-President Nixon to create the Environmental Protection Agency. In the 48 years since the first Earth Day, there have been more than 48 major environmental wins. Protections have been put in place on everything from clean water to endangered species.
The EPA also works to protect human health. For example, lead and asbestos, once common in homes and offices, have been largely phased out of many common products.
The theme of 2018’s Earth Day celebration is plastics—specifically how to decrease their unwanted impacts on our environment. What was perhaps set in place in the mid-20th century when plastic was manufactured on a large scale has come back to haunt us.
Source: The National Geographic