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The World Earth Day 22 April
Earth Day is a day that is intended to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth's natural environment. Earth Day was founded by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in first held on April 22, 1970. While this first Earth Day was focused on the United States, an organization launched by Denis Hayes, who was the original national coordinator in 1970, took it international in 1990 and organized events in 141 nations. Earth Day is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network, and is celebrated in more than 175 countries every year. Numerous communities celebrate Earth Week, an entire week of activities focused on environmental issues. In 2009, the United Nations designated April 22 International Mother Earth Day.
The first Earth Day
Responding to widespread environmental degradation, Gaylord Nelson, a United States Senator from Wisconsin, called for an environmental teach-in, or Earth Day, to be held on April 22, 1970. Over 20 million people participated that year, and Earth Day is now observed on April 22 each year by more than 500 million people and several national governments in 175 countries.
Senator Nelson, an environmental activist, took a leading role in organizing the celebration, hoping to demonstrate popular political support for an environmental agenda. He modeled it on the highly effective Vietnam War teach-ins of the time. Earth Day was first proposed in a prospectus to JFK written by Fred Dutton. However, Nelson decided against much of Dutton's top-down approach, favoring a decentralized, grassroots effort in which each community shaped their action around local concerns.
Nelson had conceived the idea for Earth Day following a trip he took to Santa Barbara right after the horrific oil spill off the coast in 1969. Outraged by the devastation and Washington political inertia, Nelson proposed a national teach-in on the environment to be observed by every university campus in the U.S.
I am convinced that all we need to do to bring an overwhelming insistence of the new generation that we stem the tide of environmental disaster is to present the facts clearly and dramatically. To marshal such an effort, I am proposing a national teach-in on the crisis of the environment to be held next spring on every university campus across the Nation. The crisis is so imminent, in my opinion, that every university should set aside 1 day in the school year-the same day across the Nation-for the teach-in.
One of the organizers of the event said:
"We're going to be focusing an enormous amount of public interest on a whole, wide range of environmental events, hopefully in such a manner that it's going to be drawing the interrelationships between them and, getting people to look at the whole thing as one consistent kind of picture, a picture of a society that's rapidly going in the wrong direction that has to be stopped and turned around.
"It's going to be an enormous affair, I think. We have groups operating now in about 12,000 high schools, 2,000 colleges and universities and a couple of thousand other community groups. It's safe to say I think that the number of people who will be participating in one way or another is going to be ranging in the millions."
Nelson announced his idea for a nationwide teach-in day on the environment in a speech to a fledgling conservation group in Seattle on September 20, 1969, and then again six days later in Atlantic City to a meeting of the United Auto Workers. Senator Nelson hoped that a grassroots outcry about environmental issues might prove to Washington, D.C. just how distressed Americans were in every constituency. Senator Nelson invited Republican Representative Paul N “Pete” McCloskey to serve as his co-chair and they incorporated a new non-profit organization, environmental Teach-In, Inc., to stimulate participation across the country. Both continued to give speeches plugging the event.
On September 29, 1969, in a long, front-page New York Times article, Gladwin Hill wrote:
"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, when a nationwide environmental 'teach-in'...coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned...."
Denis Hayes, a Harvard graduate student, read the NYT article and traveled to Washington to get involved. He had been student body president and a campus activist at Stanford University in McCloskey’s district and where Teach-In board member Paul Ehrlich was a professor. He thought he might be asked to organize Boston. Instead, Nelson eventually asked Hayes to drop out of Harvard, assemble a staff, and direct the effort to organize the United States. Hayes would go on to become a widely recognized environmental advocate.
Hayes recruited a handful of young college graduates to come to Washington, D.C. and began to plan what would become the first Earth Day.
Nelson's suggestion was difficult to implement, as the Earth Day movement proved to be autonomous with no central governing body. As Senator Nelson attests, it simply grew on its own:
Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.
On April 22, 1970, Earth Day marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. Approximately 20 million Americans participated. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, Freeway and expressway revolts, the loss of wilderness, and air pollution suddenly realized they shared common values.
Media coverage of the first Earth Day included a One-Hour Prime-time CBS News Special Report called "Earth Day: A Question of Survival," with correspondents reporting from a dozen major cities across the country, and narrated by Walter Cronkite (whose backdrop was the Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia's logo).
Pete Seeger was a keynote speaker and performer at the event held in Washington DC. Paul Newman and Ali McGraw attended the event held in New York City.
Earth Day 1970 in New York City
In the winter of 1969-1970, a group of students met at Columbia University to hear Denis Hayes talk about his plans for Earth Day. Among the group were Fred Kent, Pete Grannis, and Kristin and William Hubbard. This New York group agreed to head up the New York City part of the national movement. Fred Kent took the lead in renting an office and recruiting volunteers. "The big break came when Mayor Lindsay agreed to shut down 5th Avenue for the event. A giant cheer went up in the office on that day," according to Kristin Hubbard (now Kristin Alexandre). 'From that time on we used Mayor Lindsay's offices and even his staff. I was Speaker Coordinator but had tremendous help from Lindsay staffer Judith Crichton."
In addition to shutting down Fifth Avenue, Mayor Lindsay made Central Park available for Earth Day. The crowd was estimated as more than one million—by far the largest in the nation. Since New York was also the home of NBC, CBS, ABC, the New York Times, Time, and Newsweek, it provided the best possible anchor for national coverage from their reporters all over the country.
Earth Day 1970 in Philadelphia
Earth Day 1970 in Philadelphia gave birth to Earth Week, April 16–22. It was created by a committee of students (mostly from University of Pennsylvania), professionals, leaders of grass roots organizations and businessmen concerned about the environment and inspired by Senator Gaylord Nelson’s call for a national environmental teach-in. The Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia concluded that devoting only one day to the environment would not provide enough time and space to paint a comprehensive picture of the environmental issues confronting mankind. While all of their activities would build toward a climactic Earth Day celebration on April 22, there would also be an entire week of events in the week preceding.
Austan Librach, a regional planning graduate student, assumed the role of Committee Chairman and hired Edward Furia, who had just received his City Planning and Law Degrees from University of Pennsylvania, to be Project Director. The core group from Penn was joined in 1970 by students from other area colleges which, working together, organized scores of educational activities, scientific symposia and major mass media events in the Delaware Valley Region in and around Philadelphia. The Earth Week Committee of 33 members settled on a common objective—to raise public awareness of environmental problems and their potential solutions.
U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie was the keynote speaker on Earth Day in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. Other notable attendees included consumer protection activist and presidential candidate Ralph Nader; Landscape Architect Ian McHarg; Nobel prize-winning Harvard Biochemist, George Wald; U.S. Senate Minority Leader, Hugh Scott; and poet, Allen Ginsberg. Forty years later, the Earth Week Committee decided to make rare photos, video and other previously unpublished information about the history of Earth Week 1970 available to the public at EarthWeek.us.
Many cities now extend the observance of Earth Day events to an entire week, usually starting on April 16 and ending on Earth Day, April 22. These events are designed to encourage environmentally aware behaviors, such as recycling, using energy efficiently, and reducing or reusing disposable items.
Results of Earth Day 1970
Earth Day proved popular in the United States and around the world. The first Earth Day had participants and celebrants in two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States. More importantly, it "brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform."
Senator Nelson stated that Earth Day "worked" because of the response at the grassroots level. Twenty-million demonstrators and thousands of schools and local communities participated. He directly credited the first Earth Day with persuading U.S. politicians that environmental legislation had a substantial, lasting constituency.
It is now observed in 175 countries, and coordinated by the nonprofit Earth Day Network, according to whom Earth Day is now "the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a half billion people every year." Environmental groups have sought to make Earth Day into a day of action which changes human behavior and provokes policy changes.
Earth Day 20 and Earth Day 1990
Mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting the status of environmental issues onto the world stage, Earth Day activities in 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Unlike the first Earth Day in 1970, this 20th Anniversary was waged with stronger marketing tools, greater access to television and radio, and multimillion-dollar budgets.
Two separate groups formed to sponsor Earth Day events in 1990: The Earth Day 20 Foundation, assembled by Edward Furia (Project Director of Earth Week in 1970), and Earth Day 1990, assembled by Denis Hayes (National Coordinator for Earth Day 1970). Senator Gaylord Nelson, the original founder of Earth Day, was honorary chairman for both groups. The two did not combine forces over disagreements about leadership of combined organization and incompatible structures and strategies. Among the disagreements, key Earth Day 20 Foundation organizers were critical of Earth Day 1990 for including on their board Hewlett Packard, a company that at the time was the second-biggest emitter of chlorofluorocarbons in Silicon Valley and refused to switch to alternative solvents. In terms of marketing, Earth Day 20 had a grassroots approach to organizing and relied largely on locally based groups like the National Toxics Campaign, a Boston-based coalition of 1,000 local groups concerned with industrial pollution. Earth Day 1990 employed strategies including focus group testing, direct mail fund raising, and email marketing.
The Earth Day 20 Foundation highlighted its April 22 activities in George, Washington, near the Columbia River with a live satellite phone call with members of the historic Earth Day 20 International Peace Climb who called from their base camp on Mount Everest to pledge their support for world peace and attention to environmental issues. The Earth Day 20 International Peace Climb was led by Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mt. Everest (many years earlier), and marked the first time in history that mountaineers from the United States, Soviet Union and China had roped together to climb a mountain, let alone Mt. Everest. The group also collected over two tons of trash (transported down the mountain by support groups along the way) that was left behind on Mount Everest from previous climbing expeditions. The master of ceremonies for the Columbia Gorge event was the TV star, John Ratzenberger, from "Cheers", and the headlining musician was the "Father of Rock and Roll," Chuck Berry.
Earth Day 2000
Earth Day 2000 combined the ambitious spirit of the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990. This was the first year that Earth Day used the Internet as its principal organizing tool, and it proved invaluable domestically and internationally. Kelly Evans, a professional political organizer, served as Executive Director of the 2000 campaign. The event ultimately enlisted more than 5,000 environmental groups outside the United States, reaching hundreds of millions of people in a record 183 countries. Leonardo DiCaprio was the official host for the event, and about 400,000 participants stood in the cold rain during the course of the day.
Subsequent Earth Day events
To turn Earth Day into a sustainable annual event rather than one that occurred every 10 years, Senator Nelson and Bruce Anderson, New Hampshire's lead organizer in 1990, formed Earth Day USA. Building on the momentum created by thousands of community organizers around the world, Earth Day USA coordinated the next five Earth Day celebrations through 1995, including the launch of EarthDay.org. Following the 25th Anniversary in 1995, the coordination baton was handed to Earth Day Network.
As the millennium approached, Hayes agreed to spearhead another campaign, this time focusing on global warming and pushing for clean energy. The April 22 Earth Day in 2000 combined the big-picture feistiness of the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990. For 2000, Earth Day had the Internet to help link activists around the world. By the time April 22 came around, 5,000 environmental groups around the world were on board, reaching out to hundreds of millions of people in a record 184 countries. Events varied: A talking drum chain traveled from village to village in Gabon, Africa, for example, while hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., USA.
Earth Day 2007 was one of the largest Earth Days to date, with an estimated billion people participating in the activities in thousands of places like Kiev, Ukraine; Caracas, Venezuela; Tuvalu; Manila, Philippines; Togo; Madrid, Spain; London; and New York.