Happy Earth Day everyone! As I said last year, since the inception of the original Earth Day in 1970 has its (grass) roots from the Platform A oil spill off of Santa Barbara in 1969, it has a special meaning to us at the OWCN.
In an interview posted today by CBC News, Finis Dunaway, an associate professor of history at Trent University who is writing a book on the history of environmentalism, explains the inception of Earth Day:
“Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, published in 1962, warned about pesticides and their effects on wildlife and on human health. That helped to popularize ecological ideas to a larger audience. The book created a lot of controversy and there was a backlash from the chemical industry.”
“In the late ’60s, there was increasing coverage of environmental problems and air pollution became more talked about. In 1969, there was a dramatic oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif., that received extensive media coverage. The stories showed sea lions, western grebes covered in oil, struggling to survive, suffocating and dying along this beautiful beach in Southern California.”
“This oil spill made an impression on Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin. It was Nelson who came up with the idea for Earth Day. It was partly from going to Santa Barbara. He had been in environmental issues before but this really seemed to have affected him.”
“Nelson had read about students who had been organizing teach-ins against the Vietnam War. These are events that took place on university and college campuses where students and others would gather together and talk about the war and organize and take action against it. He thought a similar model could be used for the environmental movement. It was a pretty modest idea to begin with. So the idea came from Nelson. He started to promote the notion of an environment teach-in, but because of growing ecological concern, because of protest movements taking place during the 1960s, the idea really captured the imagination of many, many people, far more than Nelson could have ever have predicted.”
“In a sense, he turned over the organization of the events to a staff primarily of graduate students and people in their 20s, and they helped to co-ordinate activities nation-wide. This was done up from the grassroots.”
“When the event took place on April 22, 1970, it was estimated that about 20 million American participated in some form in Earth Day events in their communities, which made it the largest protest in U.S. history, larger than any protest against the Vietnam War. A lot of people see it as a pivotal moment into making environmentalism into a mass movement. It put it on the radar screen of the media.”
So, whatever you do and wherever you are, please take time today to appreciate our environment!
PS – some other interesting articles and links:
Earth Day: No more burning rivers, but new threats (AP)
Earth Day Network
The White House Earth Day Page