Incredible. It has been a full forty years since the first Earth Day, on 22 April 1970. The brain child of Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), the nationwide (and later global) event was intended to inspire awareness and understanding of the Earth's environment, in the hope that a grassroots outcry about environmental issues might prove to the Federal Government just how distressed Americans were in every constituency. According to the public announcement of the upcoming event, "Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation's campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam ... a national day of observance of environmental problems, analogous to the mass demonstrations on Vietnam, is being planned for next spring, with a national environmental 'teach-in' ... "
[I was living in Houston, TX, when the first Earth Day was celebrated -- attending a computer programing school and enjoying my first glipses of the counterculture, which gifted me with a hippie girlfriend named Ginger, my first experiences with marijuana and psychedelic drugs and rock festivals, an alternative view of the world, and a German shepherd puppy. At age 23, I had already experienced two years of college and two years in the Army (half of that in Vietnam), and so had a wider and more varied perspective than many people. As was true with feminism, I was reading, thinking and talking about our environment long before it became fashionable to do so. ]
Earth Day was the signature moment marking the beginning of the modern environmental movement as a cohesive entity, uniting scattered groups concerned with single issues into a powerful voice for re-evaluation and change. Remarkably, it worked because so many individuals organized at the local, grassroots level. Over 20 million Americans, and thousands of schools and communities, took part. Today, though it receives less publicity, Earth Day thrives in virtually every country on Earth, a monumental and fitting tribute to the vision and voice of Senator Nelson.