I’m still wishing everyone a happy 43rd Earth Day! It’s a sentiment I think we should try to keep alive beyond a date on the calendar. Bearing in mind philosopher George Santayana’s admonition that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” I did a little Googling on Earth Day’s history.
The idea for Earth Day came to founder Gaylord Nelson (then a U.S. senator from Wisconsin), after witnessing the ravages of the massive 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, environmental protection would be forced onto the national political agenda. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment” to the media, persuaded conservation-minded Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey to serve as his co-chair, and recruited Denis Hayes as national coordinator. Hayes then built a national staff of 85 to promote events across the land.
As a result 20 million Americans took to streets, parks, and auditoriums in massive rallies across the country on April 22, 1970, to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable world. Thousands of college and university students organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that fought against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.
Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts. “It was a gamble,” Gaylord recalled, “but it worked.”
Two television broadcasts from that time capture both the passion and diversity of the emerging movement as well as the civility with which we used to disagree:
I’m glad to be part of a group of people in the parking, auto, real estate and technology industries keeping the optimism of 43 years ago alive today. Keep your eyes open for a wonderful spring blossoming from the Green Parking Council: Check out an advance copy of our Green Garage Certification Public Beta (alternate site for easier downloading and printing) and join us in keeping the spirit of Earth Day alive 365 days a year.