The first Earth Day occurred 40 years ago on April 22, 1970. It grew from the idea of an American Democratic senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, as he flew from Santa Barbara, California, where he had just witnessed the disastrous consequences of a blow-out at a off-shore drilling rig that was polluting the state’s beautiful coast with about 12 million litres of dark, sticky crude.
Nelson, a quiet and somewhat secretive environmentalist, decided to employ a Harvard activist, Denis Hayes, to organize a peaceful, educational “teach-in” to protest and prevent similar environmental disasters. Hayes’s efforts, ignited by the idealistic spirit of the anti-Vietnam era in the United States, exploded into Earth Day, a symbolic honouring of the planet. The 20 million Americans who celebrated that first event were joined by millions of others around the planet. Earth Day now involves a billion people from almost every nation in the world.
So, what has been accomplished in 40 years of Earth Days?
Maybe the best summary comes from Denis Hayes himself. “Earth Day has succeeded in being the ultimate big tent,” he told Richard Charter of the San Francisco Bay Guardian (Apr. 13/10). “To some rather great extent, it’s had some measure of success.” But the problem is that “environmentalists tend to be broadly progressive people who care about war and the economy and health care. They aren’t single issue voters. And somehow, the political intensity is missing.” Read More