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

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

Iraqi Kurdish Leader: Protect Syrian City

Islamic State fighters are besieging Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, after seizing at least 21 surrounding villages in a major assault against city on Syria's northern border with Turkey More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 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.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid