News / USA

Earth Day 1970: A Grassroots Moment that Sparked a Movement

Forty years later, the message still resonates on a planet threatened by global warming

Earth Day 2010 Campaign Director Nate Byer speaking at the Global Day of Service event at the National Mall, Washington, D.C.
Earth Day 2010 Campaign Director Nate Byer speaking at the Global Day of Service event at the National Mall, Washington, D.C.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

April 22nd is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, an occasion for people to celebrate and raise awareness of the natural world.

Today with news of melting glaciers, increasingly severe droughts, floods, and storms and rising ocean levels, Earth Day celebrants around the world are marking the anniversary with new calls to combat global warming and to protect our threatened environment. 

In the years leading up to that first Earth Day in 1970, many Americans felt growing concerns about unchecked air and water pollution and the destruction of forests and other important ecosystems around the planet.

World in trouble

Twenty-five-year-old Harvard law student and first Earth Day national coordinator Denis Hayes says obvious signs pointed to the sad state of the environment.

"In Los Angeles, for simply breathing, it was the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. We had rivers that were catching on fire, lakes that were dying. The national emblem the American eagle was on the verge of extinction." 

View of Earth as photographed by the Apollo 8 astronauts on their return trip from the moon in December 1968.
View of Earth as photographed by the Apollo 8 astronauts on their return trip from the moon in December 1968.

Many historians say Earth Day might have been inspired, too, by a single, historic photograph.

It was the image of a fragile-looking Earth set against the blackness of space, taken by Apollo astronauts circling the moon for the first time in 1968.

But the surge in environmental activism also drew from the growing movement against the U.S. war in Vietnam in the late 1960s.

Hayes says support for Earth Day spread quickly and on April 22nd, one in every 10 Americans took part in the nationwide observance - attending rallies, musical concerts, planting trees or cleaning up local streams and parks.

"It was to raise a set of issues, to tie them all together into one fabric so that the people who were fighting against pesticides and the people who were fighting to stop freeways cutting through their neighborhoods or fighting against air pollution or fighting to preserve a wetland would realize that they had common values and that they ought to be working together instead of as separate organizations."

Birth of a movement  

The public outcry on that first Earth Day led to political action.

The U.S. Congress passed new laws to protect the air, water and endangered species, and created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or E.P.A.  Forty years later, the annual observance has become a global event. An estimated one billion people in 191 countries take part in a multitude of events, coordinated by the nonprofit U.S.-based group, Earth Day Network. 

The National Mall gets spruced up thanks to volunteers who rake, hoe, mulch and pick up debris.
The National Mall gets spruced up thanks to volunteers who rake, hoe, mulch and pick up debris.

The epicenter of Earth Day 2010 activities in the United States is Washington, DC. 

And it's here on the green expanse of the National Mall at the foot of the United States Capitol that the nine-day event kicked off last weekend with a simple service project.  Volunteers came to help the U.S. Park Service clean up the nation's front yard.

Armed with hoes and rakes they mulched and weeded and picked up debris.  Nearby is a kind of eco-village, with exhibit tents and globes that artists have sculpted and painted. A wide range of nonprofit environmental groups are on hand, as are foreign embassies, corporations and federal agencies, from the E.P.A. to NASA, the U.S. Space Agency.

Much of NASA's work these days is directed at space-based Earth monitoring. Under the NASA tent, kids crowd put together jigsaw puzzles based on satellite images of the Earth. NASA scientist Ruth Netting says the activity is one way to engage children to care about the planet. "Every little bit helps so I hope that we keep working at taking care of what we have."

Spreading the word

Engaging the public this way can lead to substantive change, says Nate Byer, the Earth Day Network's 2010 Campaign Director.

He says, while the Internet has helped to build a more cohesive community in the digital age, the environmental passions that launched Earth Day 1970 still resonate. He says people from of all walks of life have come to urge Congress to take action on one of the most critical environmental issues of our time: climate change.

"They want a climate bill because a climate bill is a jobs bill, because it is a national security bill and it ensures that our children and our children's children will have an environment in which they can thrive." 

Locals in Guadalajara, Mexico learn about the history of Earth Day at the Earth Day Network/Bioalkimia booth during Dia De La Tierra 2010, organized by Bioalkimia and sponsored by Earth Day Network.
Locals in Guadalajara, Mexico learn about the history of Earth Day at the Earth Day Network/Bioalkimia booth during Dia De La Tierra 2010, organized by Bioalkimia and sponsored by Earth Day Network.

Earth Day 2010 Chair Denis Hayes agrees. He adds that, unlike Earth Day 1970 which focused on local and national fixes to environmental problems, the response today must be global.

"We need to now move to a new style of governance that relates to planetary affairs.  We don't seem thus far to do that for pollution and we really have to because in the event of something like climate change it is not an issue that any one country can solve acting by itself."

Earth Day events in Washington continue through the week culminating with Sunday's Climate Rally, featuring music by top-name artists and speeches by leading environmental activists. Earth Day Network is coordinating similar events across the United States and around the globe. Organizers hope Earth Day continues to serves as a rallying point for people who care about the environment, and who want to turn that care into positive action.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More