Spotlight On: Earth Day

Earth Day originated in 1970, blossoming from an idea that a small group of us would organize events on a handful of college campuses to raise awareness about environmental issues. However, the idea simply took off, so that on April 22, 1970, literally millions of Americans participated in every kind of event imaginable, from streamside clean-ups to building a nature trail. The plan caught wind in Washington as well, and in a rarity, Congress adjourned for the day so that its members could participate in Earth Day events.

The lasting impact of Earth Day 1970 – with a wounded planet pictured on the covers of news magazines and specials on the television networks – was that concern for the environment was thenceforth seen as a major issue of concern to the American people – and in turn for elected officials.

While the thousands of Earth Day events were locally-focused, the overall impact was astonishing – a wake-up call to our society and its leaders, and wilderness was part of the message. Millions of participants “got it,” that a healthy planet needed large natural areas as reservoirs of clean air and water, as essential habitat to threatened species, and as retreats of solitude.

Recycling bins, fabric grocery bags instead of paper and plastic. These seem like such obvious ideas now, but it was that original Earth Day that planted the seed in Americans' consciousness.