Earth Day erupted on the American scene on April 22,
1970.Channeling some of the energy of
the 1960’s protests, Earth Day was the first public outpouring of sentiment and
action, and recognition of the need for protecting our environment.
Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, with bipartisan
support, is credited with being the initiator of the Earth Day movement. He subsequently received the Presidential
Medal of Freedom Award for his efforts.
The stage for Earth Day was set in part by the watershed publication
of “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson in 1962.This raised environmental awareness to a level not seen before.In 1969 we also witnessed our first massive
oil spill in the coastal waters near Santa Barbara in Southern California.This spill still ranks third in magnitude
behind only the Deepwater Horizon event in the Gulf of Mexico and the Exxon
Valdez disaster in Alaska.
On that spring day in 1970, some 20 million Americans filled
parks, streets and auditoriums to express concerns and appeal for action.The environmental movement was
awakening.The momentum of the day
carried over into a number of significant actions.The Environmental Protection Agency was
created before the end of the year.Over
the next several years, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the
Endangered Species Act were all established as laws of the land.
In the nearly half-century since 1970, Earth Day has been
observed in various forms each year.It
is estimated that one billion people around the world will recognize the event
It seems that this much attention to the environment over
this period of time should have resulted in solving the majority of our
problems by now.Sadly, this is not the
case.We have undoubtedly achieved many
positive results because of the efforts inspired by Earth Day.However there are even more locations where
pressures of people, industrialization and apathy have moved us in the other
There were 3.7 billion people on the planet in 1970 and
there was concern that we would not be able to adequately feed everyone.Today there are 7.4 billion people.We have done a remarkable job of expanding
food supplies but at a significant cost to our environmental resources.Population continues to expand today.
Water quality was a major concern in 1970.Since then we have made a great deal of
progress in reducing the amount of sewage that flows into our rivers and
lakes.However the “dead zone” in the
Gulf of Mexico, caused by excess nutrient runoff, was only beginning to form
in1970 and did not occur every year.It
now covers five to eight thousand square miles (about the size of ten Iowa
counties) each year.
We drove a lot of big heavy cars with powerful engines in 1970.The average mileage for all vehicles was
below twelve miles per gallon, about half what Henry Ford provided with his
Model T in 1913.With continual pressure
from the federal government, mileage for the national vehicle fleet has
steadily improved.However, while we now
get more miles for every gallon of gas, there are over 250 million vehicles on
the road in this country.In 1970, the
number was closer to 120 million.On a
global basis the ratio is much worse, there are now about seven times the
number of vehicles there were in 1970.
Climate change was barely in our vocabulary in 1970.Today it is seen by many as the greatest
threat facing mankind.On Earth Day April
22, 2016, at the United nations in New York, 195 nations will sign an agreement
pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.This is the most significant effort to control environmental degradation
that has ever been undertaken in the history of the world.
Earth Day is a time to reflect on our ability to continue to
live on this planet.Good things are
happening but we continue to slip backwards.2016 is the time for renewal of the 1970 energy, and new awakening of
environment activism and action.