Earth Day, April 22, 2000, marks the 30th anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement.
Among other things, 1970 in the United States brought with it the Kent State shootings, the advent of fiber optics, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Apollo 13, the Beatles^ last album, the death of Jimi Hendrix, the birth of Mariah Carey, and the meltdown of fuel rods in the Savannah River nuclear plant near Aiken, South Carolina -- an incident not officially acknowledged for another 18 years.
It was into such a world that the very first Earth Day was born.
Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a United States senator from Wisconsin, recalls his motivation for proposing the first nationwide environmental protest: "The objective was to organize a national demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake up the political establishment and force this issue onto the national agenda. It was a gamble, but it worked."
At the time, Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or even bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. Environment was a word that appeared much more often in spelling bees than on the evening news.
Earth Day 1970 turned that all around.
On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets and parks and auditoriums to demonstrate on behalf of a healthy, sustainable environment. Denis Hayes, the national coordinator, and his youthful staff organized 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.
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 Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
Senator Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the highest honor given to civilians in the United States -- for his role as founder of Earth Day. In presenting the award, President Clinton noted that Nelson "inspired us to remember that the stewardship of our natural resources is the stewardship of the American dream. He is a worthy heir of the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt ... and I hope that Gaylord Nelson^s shining example will illuminate all the debates in this city for years to come."
With the approach of 1990, a group of environmental leaders asked Denis Hayes to take a leave from his legal career to organize another big campaign. This time, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people to take part in 141 countries, and lifting the status of environmental issues on the world stage.
Following Earth Day 1990, Gaylord Nelson and Bruce Anderson -- a solar-energy architect, author, and New Hampshire Earth Day organizer -- co-founded Earth Day USA. Their goal was to make Earth Day a highly visible annual event. Toward that end, in 1995 Earth Day USA launched www.earthday.net. In 1999, Earth Day USA closed its doors and passed its web address and mission to Earth Day Network.
As the millennium approached, Hayes agreed to spearhead another campaign, this time focused on global warming and a push for clean energy. Earth Day 2000 combines the big-picture feistiness of the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990. And this time, we have the Internet to help link activists around the world.
The thirtieth anniversary of Earth Day will be celebrated by an estimated 500 million people in nearly every country in the world on April 22nd. Most major cities in the US and around the world will host large Earth Day events, and smaller events and activities will also take place in thousands of communities. Earth Day 2000^s theme, "Clean Energy Now!", has been incorporated into special programming for both television and radio.
We invite you to be part of Earth Day 2000. Discover energy you didn^t even know you had. Feel it rumble through the grass roots under your feet and the technology at your fingertips. Channel it into building a clean, healthy, diverse world for generations to come.