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The History of Earth Day

Apr 05, 2017

By Guest Blogger Steve Jasiecki of Sustainable Downbeach     

Back in 1970, California was choking on smog, lead was being pumped into the air through car exhaust, the Great Lakes were dying from the waste of industrial steel mills, DDT had decimated bird populations, sewage was being dumped into lakes, rivers and bays, factories were belching out toxic smoke into the air and sludge into the water systems. There were little penalties, accountability, or repercussions. Clearly something had to be done. There were many movements’ bringing awareness to the problem, but it was Senator Gaylord Nelson that set aside April 22 as a day to have a “National teach-in on the environment.” This became known as Earth Day.


Photo from U.S. National Archives, Documerica Project, 1973 

Nelson wanted maximum college participation.  In 1970, April 22 was chosen because it didn't interfere with spring break or exams, nor were their any religious holidays near that time. Thousands of colleges and universities, ten thousand high schools and grade schools, and several thousand communities -- more than twenty million Americans in all -- participated in one of the most exciting and significant grassroots efforts in the history of this country.  Earth Day was the first event of its kind that brought awareness of the environment to public consciousness.

The objective of Earth Day worked.  It showed the political leaders that the American people wanted action. For the first time, awareness of the environment was made on a national level.  Earth Day brought about many changes in public policy. Laws and agencies were created, and significant strides were made to clean up the country.

American leadership was at the forefront of the environmental movement. Now, Earth Day is an international event. On April 22, around the world, countries will take part staging events and celebrating the earth.

Locally, there are numerous cleanups, celebrations and festivals, including ACUA’s 27th Annual Earth Day Festival on April 23, that will commemorate the holiday.


Petting Zoo from ACUA's Earth Day Festival

Earth Day is a day set aside for everyone to contemplate the earth, its resources and its fragility.  We all need to take time to think about the future and the consequences of our actions.

For more information on the history of Earth Day, please see the EPA's Earth Day website.


The views, opinions and positions expressed are those of the author alone and do not represent those of The Atlantic County Utilities Authority.