As people around the world come together to celebrate the 38th anniversary of Earth Day on or around April 22nd with events that focus on environmental themes, some cynics still like to dismiss the tree planting, beach cleanups, marches for parks, and the multitude of other projects as feel-good activities that are soon forgotten. In reality, however, there is no denying the long-term impact that Earth Day has had on our society. Prior to April 22nd, 1970, the state of the environment was considered a non-issue in the political arena. What was once perceived as a fanatical group of activists and nature lovers interested in saving whales and rain forests, has evolved over time into an environmental consciousness that has become part of our mainstream culture.
According to a study by Wirthlin Worldwide, an international public-opinion organization, environmentalism "has become deeply rooted in the US national psyche." More than two-thirds of Americans consider themselves actively pro-environment, this report found, while only 4 percent were found to be "unsympathetic" to environmental concerns. The social, political and scientific issues surrounding global warming and climate change have also served to shine a bright spotlight on environmentalism.
History of Earth DayThe first Earth Day was held in 1970, and its history is largely the vision of one man -- Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. Believing that the state of the environment was not considered to be an important political issue, in 1963 he persuaded President Kennedy to bring national visibility to the cause by asking him to go on a nationwide environmental tour. The President liked the idea and went on his five-day conservation tour in late September of 1963. Though the tour didn't succeed in making the environment a national political issue, it did set the stage for the idea for Earth Day, which took place in the summer of 1969. While on a conservation speaking tour out West, Senator Nelson announced there would be a national environmental teach-in during the Spring of 1970. The wire services carried the story nationwide, and in April of 1970, more than 20 million people participated in the event that gave birth to the modern environmental movement.
As the founder of Earth Day, Nelson helped to set a standard for people in public service to care about the environment and to try to do something about it. He served ten years in the Wisconsin Senate, was twice elected Governor of the State of Wisconsin, and served as US Senator from 1962-1980. His environmental leadership helped to pave the way for other important steps that came later -- the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.
What You Can DoEarth Day is a day to show how much we care about protecting the environment. Though it is usually celebrated on April 22nd, many of the events and festivals are actually observed on the weekends immediately before and after that date. Some of the activities held in the United States coincide with National Parks Week, the 9th annual celebration that features a variety of special events and activities throughout the National Park System.
No single organization or group has been designated as the official Earth Day organization; instead, a number of non-profit groups and coalitions organize activities and gather information on events being held in the United States, in other countries, and even in cyberspace. Some prominent Earth Day sites include those of the maintained by the Wilderness Society, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Sierra Club, and the EnviroLink Network. Earth Day falls in the middle of , so people can also take part in a nationwide series of events organized by and for people who enjoy and appreciate local, state, regional, and national parks. Though many events take place on a large scale, what you do at home, at work, and in your community are just as important. Everyone can participate in events, activities and projects to restore, clean up, and preserve the environment in their own back yard. Join in and enjoy the experience!
Other useful resources:
Earth Day in Your Neighborhood - The Heartland All Species Project shows you how to do an Earth Day on your block.
Earthday.net - a compilation of resources for Earth Day, including events, information for educators, an Earth Day store, and more.
Send a free earth day card to someone you care about:
Happy Earth Day Coloring and Activities Book - an 11-page coloring book from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Kids Domain - Earth Day - explains the history of Earth Day, and includes songs, games, and other activities.
Earth Day Groceries Project 2008 - last year hundreds of thousands of students worldwide participated in the Earth Day Groceries Project. Hundreds of teachers s sent in digital pictures of decorated bags to celebrate Earth Day and increase environmental awareness. Find out how to participate in 2008.