The first ever Earth Day in 1970, founded by Wisconsin Senator and dedicated environmentalist Gaylord Nelson (thanks again Wisconsin!), occurred at a time in our history when we were engulfed in the hot issues of war and race and poverty, and some political leaders, like Senator Jacob Javits of New York, warned against letting a concern for the environment overshadow those other vital issues.
But the yearly national and global rally for the Earth has had its significant accomplishments, perhaps the greatest being the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to an excellent short history by the Earth Day Network:
Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. “It was a gamble,” Gaylord recalled, “but it worked.”
As 1990 approached, a group of environmental leaders asked Denis Hayes to organize another big campaign. This time, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1995) — the highest honor given to civilians in the United States — for his role as Earth Day founder.
Considering the depressingly successful corporate-financed media backlash against the settled science of global climate change in our own time, perhaps we now need to make every day Earth day.
That is precisely the important work being done by modern climate activist organizations such as Bill McKibben’s phenomenally successful 350.org.
And of course, to make every day Earth Day, don’t forget to avail yourself of the APPLE Center’s e-waste drop-off service (full disclosure: I’m a member of APPLE).