By Rachel Baruch Yackley | Daily Herald Correspondent Published: 4/14/2010
When Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson came up with the idea for Earth Day, first held on April 22, 1970, was he worried about global warming? Did he think about recycling?
According to the Web site earthday.environlink.org, Nelson, who died in 2005, began pushing this idea back in 1962, as a way to get politicians to address environmental issues.
"Forty years ago was the height of American consumerism," said Pam Otto, nature programs manager at the St. Charles Park District. "A lot was done at the expense of the environment."
By 1970, due to unregulated industrial practices, rivers were catching on fire, forests were being leveled, pesticide use was rampant and unchecked, and more. The inaugural Earth Day observance certainly focused on combating pollution and destruction of the environment.
During his years as Senator (1963 - 1981), Nelson said he "continued to speak on environmental issues to a variety of audiences in some twenty-five states. All across the country, evidence of environmental degradation was appearing everywhere, and everyone noticed except the political establishment. The environmental issue simply was not to be found on the nation's political agenda. The people were concerned, but the politicians were not."
Since Nelson's efforts got the ball rolling, many changes have been enacted: eight months after the first Earth Day, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created; the Clean Air Act was expanded in 1970 and again in 1977; the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973 and 1980; and Congress established Superfund to clean up hazardous waste.
"There was a lot of push; a lot of focus, back then," Otto said. "Earth Day should be every day, but this annual event helps remind people this is our only planet, and we have to take care of it."
People are still concerned, and since the first official Earth Day celebration, grass-roots efforts have blossomed all across the country, in an effort to educate us and get us involved in helping not only our planet, but ourselves as well.
On the 40th annual Earth Day (coincidentally on April 22, once again) there are many events and activities in your communities. Take an opportunity to learn, share ideas, have fun, and whether it's on a local or a global level, help the planet.
(To see list of events held in April 2010, visit http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=372569.