What is 54 years old and growing better with age?  Earth Day!  Every year on April 22, we mark the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement.

Prior to 1970, America and Americans lived with a host of environmental threats and concerns from automobile emissions due to leaded gas, industrial waste, and unchecked air pollution.

While a public awakening began to grow after 1962 when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, it wasn’t until 1969 when a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California inspired long-term change.

Senator Gaylord Nelson, an environmentally conscious junior senator from Wisconsin, spearheaded the movement when he saw the potential to engage students to raise public consciousness about air and water pollution. He partnered with Denis Hayes, a young activist, to organize campus teach-ins and to scale the idea to a broader public.

April 22 was chosen as the date, a weekday falling between Spring Break and Final Exams, to maximize the greatest student participation. They branded the event Earth Day and promoted the event nationally. The first Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans, 10% of the population at the time, to participate and demonstrate against the harmful impacts of unsustainable industrial development.

This first Earth Day united groups that had previously been fighting individually against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife. It also let to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and many of the environmental protection laws we have today, including the Clean Water Act.

Today, Earth Day celebrations continue, both as protests and celebrations.  Here in the Florida Panhandle, one way we celebrate Earth Day is by supporting beach cleanups.  It is one avenue to give back to our communities and help take care of the environment that we love.

Why not take the time to celebrate 54 years of progress and tradition?  Find a way to celebrate Earth Day this coming April 22, 2024.


Laura Tiu
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