Curio: Earth Day (April 22)
Earth Day was established in 1970 by then-Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005), who wanted a national “teach in” day about the environment. It now marks what is considered to be the beginning of the modern environmental movement in the US. Senator Nelson was inspired to take action after seeing images of the horrific 1969 oil spill off the Santa Barbara, CA coast. The date of April 22 was chosen because it would fall between spring break and final exams for college students, considered to be good candidates for environmental activism.
The time was ripe to create a day of environmental awareness, not only because of the catastrophic Santa Barbara oil spill, but also because of growing concerns about the state of the nation and the world. Among other things, the US was in the middle of the Vietnam War, fear of potential nuclear power plant disasters was growing, and Rachel Carson (1907-1964) had raised the alarm about pesticide overuse in her groundbreaking 1962 book, Silent Spring. This day helped a variety of groups that had been fighting against and trying to raise awareness of such things as air and water pollution, species extinction, and destruction of wild animal habitats see the common ground on which they stood and, in many ways, to join forces. The first Earth Day in 1970 saw approximately 20 million Americans join in rallies, demonstrations, and protests. This groundswell of concern and action were the force behind the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency in late 1970.
Earth Day has expanded beyond the US and is today the largest day of non-religious observance around the world, with an estimated billion-plus participants in activities. Many of today’s Earth Day activities and messages are, unsurprisingly, related to global climate change. Perhaps ironically, just last month, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) declared March 2016 to be the warmest recorded March since record-keeping began in 1880.
For 2016, the Earth Day global theme is “Trees for the Earth”. The Earth Day Network is counting down to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020 with the goal of planting 7.8 billion trees worldwide—1 tree for every human being on the planet. These plantings are designed to help replace the annual global loss of trees (about 15 million) and to mitigate the effects of climate change and pollution, increase biodiversity, and promote healthier, happier communities.
To find out more about Earth Day in general, events in your area, and ways to be a better friend of the Earth, check out the following: http://www.earthday.org/
Top image: Composite image of the Earth's surface from January 4, 2012.
Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring