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Earth Day – Then And Now

In the late 1960’s air pollution clouded our cities with toxic fumes spewed out by cars and factories. Air pollution in New York, Los Angeles and other major cities were linked to disease and death, thus leaving city life barely breathable.

Another concern was the large-scale use of pesticides, which were often used in highly populated areas. Additionally large amounts of dead fish were reported on the Great Lakes, and the media carried the news that Lake Erie, one of America's largest bodies of fresh water, was in its death throes. Ohio had another jolt when Cleveland's Cuyahoga River, an artery inundated with oil and toxic chemicals, burst into flames by spontaneous combustion.

In addition to the media coverage about the Great Lakes, the media coverage of the massive youth rallies of 1969 - as well as the ghetto riots of 1965 to 1968 - helped to impress on the American public that the United States had become an urban country with complex problems compounded by huge numbers of people. In the 1960’s most talk was about conservation and preservation of our parks and recreational areas. Talk of environment or sustainability did not come into effect until the early 1970’s.

One prominent politician, Gaylord Nelson, then Senator from Wisconsin, had been frustrated throughout the 1960s because only a few of his Congressional colleagues had any interest in environmental issues. However, during his travels across the United States, Nelson had been greatly impressed by the dedication and the expertise of the many student and citizen volunteers who were trying to solve pollution problems in their communities.

Early in December 1969, Senator Nelson of Wisconsin and a 25-year old named Denis Hayes, former President of the Stanford student body, as national coordinator, became making plans for the inaugural Earth Day.

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day was celebrated. It was on that day that Americans made it clear that they understood and were deeply concerned over the deterioration of our environment and the mindless dissipation of our resources. That day left a permanent impact on the politics of America. It forcibly thrust the issue of environmental quality and resources conservation into the political dialogue of the Nation. That was the important objective and achievement of Earth Day. It showed the political and opinion leadership of the country that the people cared, that they were ready for political action, that the politicians had better get ready, too. In short, Earth Day launched the Environmental decade with a bang.

Perhaps the most impressive observance was in New York City, whose mayor, John V. Lindsay, had thrown the full weight of his influence behind Earth Day. For two hours, Fifth Avenue was closed to traffic between 14th Street and 59th Street, bringing midtown Manhattan to a virtual standstill. One innovative group of demonstrator’s grabbed attention by dragging a net filled with dead fish down the thoroughfare, shouting to passersby, "This could be you!" Later in the day, a rally filled Union Square to overflowing as Mayor Lindsay, assisted by celebrities Paul Newman and Ali McGraw, spoke from a raised platform looking out over a sea of smiling faces. In New York, as elsewhere, self-policing demonstrators left surprising little litter in their wake.

Earth Day 1970 made it clear that the public is committed to saving our environment. Although the battle is far from over we have made substantial progress. In the ten years since 1970 much of the basic legislation needed to protect the environment has been enacted into law: the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Water Pollution and Control Act Amendments, the Resource Recovery Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. And, the most important piece of environmental legislation in our history, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law on January 1, 1970.

Here is your call to action, celebrate Earth Day 2008 on April 22nd. Plant a tree, reduce green house gasses, or make a commitment to start recycling, these are small steps and yet these steps can do so much for our environment.

Submitted by:

Carol Belanger

For more information on how you can celebrate Earth day visit http://www.squidoo.com/EarthDay2008




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