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The History & Meaning of Earth Day


J.Sterling Morton, the founding father of Arbor Day had said “Each generation takes the earth as trustees”. Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April by planting trees and is the first cousin to the younger Earth Day. Earth Day first came into being as an organized protest on 22nd April 1970, leaving a permanent impact on the political and legislative thinking of America. While planting trees was a definite first step in the right direction, there were a zillion other issues, frighteningly real and close to home that had Senator Gaylord Nelson worried.

In the EPA Journal, 1980, Senator Nelson commented, “My primary objective in planning Earth Day was to show the political leadership of the Nation that there was broad and deep support for the environmental movement. While I was confident that a nationwide peaceful demonstration of concern would be impressive, I was not quite prepared for the overwhelming response that occurred on that day. Two thousand colleges and universities, ten thousand high schools and grade schools, and several thousand communities in all, more than twenty million Americans participated in one of the most exciting and significant grassroots efforts in the history of this country.” The Environmental Protection Agency was founded as a direct result of Earth Day 1970.

Earth Day marked the beginning of public awareness that America was setting a terrible example to the rest of the on looking world. The mindless guzzling of finite resources and pollution of air, water and soil could not go on forever. It was time to start thinking about conservation of resources and the impact of human actions on the quality of the environment. As former President, Mr. Clinton remarked “Americans came together for the very first Earth Day. They came together to make it clear that dirty air, poison water, spoiled land were simply unacceptable. They came together to say that preserving our natural heritage for our children is a national value.”

Some of the crucial legislation that came about as a result of Earth Day April 22, 1970 is the following:
• The Clean Air Act
• The Water Quality Improvement Act
• The Water Pollution and Control Act Amendments
• The Resource Recovery Act
• The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
• The Toxic Substances Control Act
• The Occupational Safety and Health Act
• The Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act
• The Endangered Species Act
• The Safe Drinking Water Act
• The Federal Land Policy and Management Act
• The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act

Inflation, the energy crisis, the perilous state of the economy and international conflict has not deflected interest sparked by the peaceful protest that took place in April 1970. Each year, Earth Day reinforces our resolve to be true to ourselves and accountable for our actions.

In the Senator Nelson’s own words, “It is clear that the environmental movement now is far stronger, far better led, far better informed, and far more influential than it was ten years ago. Its strength grows each year because public knowledge and understanding grow each year.”

Earth Day has evolved into so much more than a ‘day’. It has re-defined core values and underlined the need for transparency and accountability in government, legislation, business economics and everyday life.


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