Earth Day April 22, 2022

  • globe with text Happy Earth DayEvery year on April 22, Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.

    In the decades leading up to the first Earth Day, Americans were consuming vast amounts of leaded gas and fossil fuels. Industry created smoke and smog with little fear of the consequences from either the law or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. Until this point, mainstream America remained largely oblivious to environmental concerns and how a polluted environment threatens human health.

    Senator Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin, had long been concerned about the deteriorating environment in the United States.  In January 1969, he witnessed the ravages of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California.  Inspired by what he saw, he enlisted the help of Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman and Denis Hayes, a young activist, to organize campus “teach-ins”. They chose April 22nd, and dubbed it Earth Day. 

    The first Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans to demonstrate against the impacts of 150 years of industrial development which had left a growing legacy of serious human health impacts. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment and there were massive coast-to-coast rallies in cities, towns, and communities.

    Earth Day has had a lasting impact.  By the end of 1970, it led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other first of their kind environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act,  the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act.  Two years later Congress passed the Clean Water Act.  A year after that, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act and soon after the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. These laws have protected millions of men, women and children from disease and death and have protected hundreds of species from extinction.

    Today, Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behavior and create global, national and local policy changes.