History of Earth Day

By Catherine Thompson
[environmental bureau chief]

Tomorrow, April 22, is Earth Day and Good Friday. I’d like to appreciate the coincidence and exploit such a day with charitable goodness of the environmental variety. While those who diligently attended Sunday school may be able to recite the history of Good Friday, not many can give a decent background story to my own personal day of environmental worship, Earth Day. So, eager students of all that is green and good sit back and listen.

Earth Day began in the 1970s by Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson. Although it’s easy to idealize the swinging sixties and seventies as a time of peace, love and environmental enlightenment, this fantasy isn’t quite true. Sure, they may have worn flowers in their hair and enjoyed frolicking around Woodstock au naturel but environmental issues weren’t exactly on the political agenda; hence why Nelson was motivated to give Mother Nature the limelight in the White House and beyond. His idea of Earth Day, seven years in the making, aimed to make environmental issues top priority. Nelson hopped aboard Pres. Kennedy’s five-state, eleven day conservation tour and began speaking to audiences about environmental issues.

Nelson was inspired by the anti-Vietnam war “teach-ins” and sought to produce a similar event to raise awareness.  He recognized the fiery passion incited by Vietnam War protests and hoped to reignite such dedication and apply it to solving the environmental problems. In September 1969, at a conference hosted in Seattle, Nelson announced his grassroots event that was to be held the following April 22. The idea took off and was openly embraced the conscientious citizens everywhere. Now, Earth Day is celebrated in a mind-boggling 175 countries with a smorgasbord of different festivities.

Earth Day ’70 was the beginnings of an environmental awakening. So this Earth Day, in honor of the very respectable Nelson, celebrate all that is good and eco-friendly. Maybe even have a traditional Easter egg hunt with an eco-spin: hide and search for certified organic or fair trade chocolates. Now that is what I call a Good Friday.


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