April 22 is celebrated around the world as Earth Day. The Earth Day Network ( http://www.earthday.org/) considers this the world’s largest secular holiday, with its celebrants estimated at about a billion people.
So who’s idea was this? According to The Writers’ Almanac (http://writersalmanac.org/), it started with a politician. Senator Gaylord Nelson ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaylord_Nelson) was an environmental activist who was troubled by author Rachel Carson’s landmark book Silent Spring ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Spring), but was even more troubled by the lack of attention the environment was receiving in the country. He embarked on speaking tours to raise environmental awareness, and while he seemed to be reaching the public at large, few fellow politicians acted concerned.
What to do? He noticed how energized young people were against the Vietnam War, and decided to try to create a grassroots movement based on the same tactics. During a 1969 press conference, he took the gamble of announcing a nationwide demonstration for the following spring.
It worked exactly as he had hoped! Twenty million people took part in that first Earth Day in 1970. As Gladwin Hill wrote in The New York Times, “Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam.” Landmark legislation, like the Clean Air, the Clean Water, and the Endangered Species Acts and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, soon followed. Or, in the words of Victor Hugo, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”
Happy Earth Day!
The photo of Senator Nelson is from Wikipedia.