In the early 1960s, Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, proposed a nationwide conservation tour to President John F. Kennedy. The tour, which took place in September 1963, was overshadowed by other events. However, six years later, in the summer of 1969, Nelson got the idea for a national “teach-in” about the environment. Planning began for this teach-in, which was dubbed Earth Day and set for April 22, 1970. A call went out. And Americans responded.
Going into that first Earth Day, no one could have predicted what was about to occur. School children, college students, community leaders, public officials, and citizens mobilized a huge, grassroots effort. By April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans, or 10 percent of our nation’s population in that year, took part.
This demonstration for the environment brought about sweeping changes at the federal and state levels. Later that same year, President Richard Nixon established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by Executive Order. In the years that followed, dozens of environmental laws were passed, protecting our coastlines, clearing our air, and cleaning up our water supplies.
Today, nearly 45 years later, the successes of Earth Day are readily apparent. The worst of our day-to-day environmental problems have been addressed. In most places and by most standards, we have cleaner air and safer water than we did four and a half decades ago.
However, this year and every year, Earth Day reminds us that there is still work to be done. We’ve cleaned up many of our old messes, but we aren’t finished. Plus, we need to continue to monitor our progress, making adjustments and improvements as testing and technology change. And, of course, along the way, we’ve created some new problems, such as the huge pile of electronics that we discard each year.
The good news is that Earth Day is about individuals acting to make a difference. Today, you can make that difference. Get involved. Reduce the amount of waste in your life—conserve energy, save water, and create less trash. Recycle all that you can, providing useful materials to the manufacturing process. And, spread the word, especially to children and youth. Someday soon this will be their environment. Show them how and why to take care of it now.
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