In 1970, fifty years ago, people around the world celebrated the first Earth Day on April 22. Earth Day began as a day of education about environmental issues.
What was going on 50 years ago that prompted this observance? It appeared that people took the environment for granted. Recycling wasn’t a common practice, certainly not curbside pick-up. Waste from factories ended up in the air, lakes, and rivers, which made for unsafe and unhealthy conditions. But then in the 1960s, Americans started to become aware of how pollution affected the environment.
By the end of the decade, the damage done by an oil spill in California and a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, brought the environment to the forefront.
The first Earth Day mobilized millions of Americans for the protection of our planet (an estimated 20 million Americans, 10% of the population at the time, took part). Earth Day was a catalyst for change. During the 1970s, important pieces of environmental legislation were passed to protect air, water, and land. You can read more about the history of Earth Day here.
I was in high school in 1970. At the time, there was no curbside recycling like there is now in many communities. My Girl Scout troop collected glass and paper for recycling, which we brought to a business that actually paid us per pound (it was one of our troop’s fundraisers). We did trail clean ups, living by the mantra “leave a place better than you found it.” It didn’t matter that we didn’t throw that trash on the ground; it was our responsibility to pick it up. I know that participating in these activities shaped my attitudes and behaviors toward the environment to this day.
This year we can’t gather in person to participate in Earth Day activities. But that doesn’t mean our concern for the environment goes away. You can check out NASA’s website for many Earth Day activities.
Here are some things I’m trying to do:
- Using less plastic
- Thinking about whether I need something before I buy it
- Picking up after myself and picking up trash when I see it
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Earth Day reminds us that humans have an impact on the environment. Earth Day prompts us to ask how we can sustain these positive changes. Earth Day also reminds us that our health depends on our planet’s health.