The 50th Anniversary of National Earth Day is Wednesday, April 22. Momentum for the first Earth Day came from Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, linking the near extinction of Bald Eagles with use of the pesticide DDT in 1962, and an oil spill in California in 1969. The spill highlighted the environmental impacts of largely unregulated transport and distribution of fossil fuels for combustion in power production, industry, and vehicles. Gaylord Nelson, a US Senator from Wisconsin, convinced US Representative Peter McCloskey from California and Denis Hayes, at the time a graduate student at Harvard, to coordinate a national teach-in about the environment. A staff of 80 were hired to kick-off the national event.
20 million people, equivalent to 10 percent of the population at the time, participated in the first Earth Day with protests, rallies, and other demonstrations. The PA archives (courtesy of Paige Roberts) reveal that our community was very involved in the first Earth Day: faculty conducted teach-ins on overpopulation and water and air pollution; students wrote letters to politicians and planted trees; and the community participated in a town-wide litter cleanup.
The first Earth Day led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency and passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. It is important that we continue using Earth Day as a platform to call for our government to protect natural resources and mitigate climate change. This year, we ask that community members participate in Earth Day remotely through programming at https://www.earthdaylive2020.org/. Also watch for announcements from EcoAction, Climate Café, and the Ambassadors for Climate Curriculum for PA-specific ways to get involved from home this Earth Week.