April 22 – Down To Earth

Today’s Factismal: The 45th annual Earth Day celebration is being held today.

The 1960s and 1970s were a difficult time for the environment. The Cuyahoga river had caught fire in 1969 (and not for the first time). Overuse of pesticides had led to bald eagles, whooping cranes, and many other species of bird becoming endangered. Dumping of toxic wastes into the oceans and bays had led to widespread poisoning in places such as Minimata and had taken Maine lobsters off of the market. And hidden dumps of toxic waste in places such as Love Canal had created a seemingly endless parade of cancer-ridden children.

By 1969, the epidemic of environmental crises had become nightly news. But where most were to content to curse the oncoming dark, two men wanted to light a candle. The first was UNESCO worker John McConnell, who proposed that the United Nations designate the equinox (March 21, 1970) as a day of environmental awareness and celebration of the Earth; he proposed calling it “Earth Day”. The second was Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson who urged teachers and environmental activists to take part in a “teach-in” on April 22, 1970. His idea took root and blossomed into an event that included more than 20,000,000 people; nearly 10% of the US population participated.

The poster for the very first Earth Day (Image courtesy Walt Pogo)

The poster for the very first Earth Day
(Image courtesy Walt Kelly)

The next year, the two celebrations were merged. The name of the first and the date of the second came together to give us the Earth Day celebration that has become a global tradition. Every year, scientists, students, and ordinary citizens come together to celebrate what we’ve learned and to work to protect the Earth.

Thanks in part to Earth Day, the environment has become much cleaner over the past four decades. Federal agencies such as the EPA (established in response to tragedies like Love Canal and the Cuyahoga fire) have reduced pollution and enforced common standards that have made life better and longer for everyone. Bald eagles,which at one time were reduced to a mere 412 nesting pairs, now number in the tens of thousands. Toxic waste sites like Love Canal have been cleaned up. And the pernicious smog of Los Angeles is now a rare annoyance instead of a daily threat.

If you’d like to take part in Earth Day this year, then head on over to:
http://www.earthday.org/greencities/

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