Happy Earth Day! It’s a big one this year, but did you know that college students help spark its popularity?
Forty years ago today, the very first Earth Day sparked the beginning of what most consider to be the modern environmental movement. Approximately 20 million Americans participated in the first-ever Earth Day activities on April 22, 1970 and thousands of colleges and universities across the country held protests against problems with the environment. Various groups held demonstrations against things like pollution, oil spills, polluting factories, pesticides, and extinction, and Earth Day activities have been a staple on college campuses ever since.
The first Earth Day was initiated by environmental activist Gaylord Nelson, an ambitious young U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after he had the idea for a nationwide teach-in day on the environment. Senator Nelson took a leading role in organizing the celebration after visiting Santa Barbara, California immediately following an oil spill off the coast in 1969.Nelson proposed a national teach-in on the environment at every university campus in the United States.
As NelsonEarthDay.net explained: For the past few years, college students had been staging teach-ins to educate their campuses about the war in Vietnam. What if, Nelson wondered, students used the same forum to raise environmental awareness, and what if they coordinate their events to fall on the same day, grabbing headlines and sending a strong environmental message to the Capitol?
Students were already able to congregate together for a cause, and group meetings about saving the Earth were expected to be more peaceful in comparison to anti-war demonstrations.
Nelson chose the date of April 22nd in hopes of achieving the greatest participation possible on college campuses. He determined the week of April 19–25 was the best choice because it did not fall during exams or spring breaks, did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather, and the date has stuck ever since.
Although some college administrators feared protests would occur rather than peaceful demonstrations, William Moomaw, a professor at Williams College in 1970, told CNN’s Steve Almasy that “People were pretty upbeat [that day]. Finally we were tackling another unaddressed issue. There was a real can-do attitude and a real sense that individual and public engagement could change things. A very different attitude than one sees today.”
Earth Day proved popular around the world, and is now observed in 175 countries.
The Wisconsin Historical Museum is even holding exhibits about Gaylord Nelson from March through June, 2010 in celebration of their U.S. Senator’s dream that became a reality.
Various colleges and universities across the United States are holding Earth Day celebrations and events today.
If you’re unable to participate in any organized Earth Day functions on your college campus, there are still a simple few ways for you to easily do your part in helping the environment.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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