A national “teach-in” put a spotlight on environmental issues
“Go green, be environmentally conscious, think eco-friendly.” These catch phrases are now firmly established in the popular lexicon. So it may seem strange that at one time most Americans were largely unaware of the need to clean up the planet and preserve its precious resources.
Flash back to the end of the tumultuous 60s with massive civil disobedience protests against the Vietnam War, and in support of civil rights. Urban sprawl and pollution are starting to make people think twice about the cost of “progress.”
Enter U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin. A large oil spill in 1969 motivated him to make Americans more aware of the importance of environmental issues so that legislation will become a political action priority.
Senator Nelson chooses Harvard University graduate student Denis Hayes and a small army of college volunteers to coordinate the activities of “a national teach-in on the environment.” Thousands of communities and schools across America took part. So, on April 22, 1970, Earth Day is celebrated by an estimated 20 million people. It’s a huge, unprecedented, and historic U.S. event.
Lesser known is the fact that nearly simultaneously an international version of Earth Day was conceived by San Francisco newspaper publisher and peace activist John McConnell and actually celebrated first — a mere month prior to Gaylord Nelson’s national Earth Day.
McConnell first proposed the idea of a global holiday to honor Earth and Peace in October 1969 at a UNESCO Conference, followed by a San Francisco Earth Day proclamation and worldwide celebration on March 21, 1970. The United Nations continues to mark Earth Day on that day every year by ringing its Peace Bell at U.N. headquarters in New York City.
An enduring legacy of Nelson’s Earth Day was the subsequent passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Water Drinking Act, and the Endangered Species Act, among other laws. Only three years later, the Environmental Protection Agency was established to protect the environmental health of all Americans.
“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,” states The Earth Day Network.
Flash forward to Earth Day last year when 175 countries came together and signed the historic Paris Climate Agreement to cut carbon emissions to address the disastrous consequences of climate change to all species inhabiting our planet.
Global warming will be the overarching issue as the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day in 2020 approaches. Meanwhile, it serves as an annual reminder that each person can do his or her part, in their own communities to keep the environment healthy for all.
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IF YOU GO
EARTH DAY 2017 ACTIVITIES
When: April 22, 9am to 1pm
Where: Sawgrass Nature Center. 3000 Sportsplex Drive, Coral Springs
Features: Wildlife exhibits, guided tours, plant giveaways for Coral Springs residents, and children’s activities.
Parking: Dr. Paul’s Dog Park and Sawgrass Springs Middle School.
Information: Visit CoralSprings.org, or call Casey Lee, Coral Springs Environmental Coordinator, at 954-344-1117.
What: Parkland’s Farmers Market Earth Day and Arbor Day activities
When: April 23, 9am to 1pm
Where: 8350 Ranch Road, Parkland
Activities: Annual Releaf Tree Giveaway (for Parkland residents only). Informational displays on environmental subjects, as well as earth stewardship representatives on hand to speak about native plants in the home and city landscape, national wildlife certification, and more. The Farmer’s Market is dog-friendly.
Information: Visit Cityofparkland.org, or contact Suzanne Newman, Parkland Environmental Coordinator, at 954-757-4115.