Nelson had just toured the oil spill devastation on the coast of Santa Barbara and was flying to San Francisco when he read an article about recent popular teach-ins held on college campuses. The format struck him as a promising way to communicate this growing public concern to elected officials in Washington D.C. and state government. He imagined that:
"If we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force the issue onto the national political agenda."
Gaylord Nelson earned a national reputation as "the Conservation Governor" by starting popular reforms in Wisconsin to clean up waterways, protect natural resources, create green jobs, and bolster the state's recreation infrastructure. But once elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, he spent 7 years trying unsuccessfully to draw the attention of lawmakers to his environmental agenda.
Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. It is now observed in 175 countries, and coordinated by the nonprofit, Earth Day Network, according to whom Earth Day is now "the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a half billion people every year."
On the 22nd of April, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.
Clean Air regulations have cut emissions of carbon monoxide by 24 percent and sulfur dioxide, the chief cause of acid rain, by 30 percent.
More than 5,000 U.S. communities now have curbside recycling programs aimed at reducing the amount of garbage going to landfills or incinerators.
After that first celebration in 1970, Congress enacted 28 laws aimed at protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, our endangered species and their habitats, and curbing the then-widespread dumping ot toxic waste.
The concept for Earth Day began with Senator Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin Democrat, who in 1969 proposed a series of environmental teach-ins on college campuses across the nation. Hoping to satisfy a course requirement at Harvard by organizing a teach-in there, law student Denis Hayes flew to Washington, DC, to interview Nelson.
The event had a major impact on the nation. Following Earth Day, conservation organizations saw their memberships double and triple. Within months, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created; Congress also revised the Clean Air Act , the Clean Water Act , and other environmental laws.
The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, attracted over 20 million participants in the United States. It launched the modern environmental movement and spurred the passage of several important environmental laws. It was the largest demonstration in history...