Earth Day Turns 50!

Reprinted with permission of author Laura Rogers-Castro, CT DEEP Wildlife Division

On April 22, 1970, 20 million people participated in an event that would soon launch the modern day environmental movement. The idea of an “Earth Day” was conceived by Wisconsin Democrat Senator Gaylord Nelson who had witnessed the environmental impact caused by a tremendous oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Senator Nelson convinced Republican politician Pete McCloskey to serve as co-chair. They recruited 25-year old Harvard student (and later, Stanford Law School graduate) Denis Hayes to serve as coordinator of the event. An April date was chosen as it was conveniently equidistant between Spring Break and final exams.

What led to the huge success of the first Earth Day? One reason for the high level of participation was the publication in 1962 of Rachel Carson’s monumental work, “Silent Spring”. This book increased public awareness of the environmental effects resulting from the indiscriminate use of pesticides. More than 500,000 copies of “Silent Spring” were sold in 24 countries!

Earth Day was also successful due to the awareness of the pollution crisis at the time. Air, water, and land were all concerns. People demanded the right to clean water and fresh air.

The first Earth Day included protests and demonstrations and ultimately, led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

Earth Day 2020 (earthday.org) features the biggest challenge today, climate change. The goal of this year’s Earth Day is to spur greater global ambition to tackle the climate crisis.

Will Earth Day 2020 lead to important Congressional Acts as well? Will we be able to ensure the protection of our land, including its wildlife and natural resources? Will new governmental actions provide permanent funding for wildlife conservation? Stay tuned!

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