Author, artist, and fellow Pickle Dani Greer is a staunch advocate for environmental responsibility. The following is a post that she originally published on this blog is 2011.
“I am wondering where you were on April 22, 1970? Were you aware, and did you celebrate Earth Day way back in the 70’s?”
A friend posed this question on an online forum, and it took me back to high school days. I did indeed know about Earth Day, because several teachers in the military school I attended in Germany were from California and were very environmentally conscious, as was the German culture in which we lived. So it’s not surprising that my green roots were planted early on.
In an earlier blog post we wrote about the Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival, where in 1970 that city’s celebration began, propelled by an oil spill offshore in 1969. Earth Day was founded there by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in first held on April 22, 1970. It marked the beginning of the environmental movement, and it was estimated 20 million people participated on some level throughout the country.
While this first Earth Day was focused on the United States, an organization launched by Denis Hayes, who was the original national coordinator in 1970, took it international in 1990 and organized events in 141 nations. The Earth Day Network included NGOs, quasi-governmental agencies, local governments, activists, and others. Earth Day Network members focused on environmental education; local, national, and global policies; public environmental campaigns; and organizing national and local earth day events to promote activism and environmental protection.
It’s difficult to put a finger on exactly why the movement not only lasted but blossomed for more than forty years, and slowly made inroads into mainstream thinking. Certainly, the straightforward Earth Day name (rhymes with Birthday) and the scheduling at the vernal equinox, when the natural switch from winter to spring brought a sense of rebirth, helped lay the psychological groundworks. But perhaps more important was the organization of the early movement, or more clearly stated, the lack of organization. Earth Day was at its foundation, a grass roots effort. As Senator Nelson attests, it simply grew on its own:
“Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.”
From decade to decade, the movement has grown worldwide, and in 2000 Earth Day first used the Internet as its principal organizing tool, which proved invaluable domestically and internationally. The movement has grown exponentially in the eleven years since that marker event.
But is it enough? In the four decades since the Santa Barbara oil spill, a memory of a more recent oil disaster looms. Perhaps even more consequential is the nuclear disaster in Japan. How much more can the planet take? Do you think we’re doing enough to turn the tide of environmental degradation? If not, what are some thoughts on how to improve the situation for future generations? Please leave us a comment.
Photo courtesy of pageresource.com; Earth viewed from Apollo 17.