On April 22nd of each year, people around the world celebrate what is now internationally known as Earth Day. Local, regional, and individual celebrations consist of recycling programs, road clean ups, tree plantings, and more. But there is a lot about Earth Day that you may not know. As part of our 10 Fun Facts on the 10th of each month to celebrate 10 years of Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve, here’s 10 things you might not have known about Earth Day.
1. The establishment of Earth Day is the culmination of what is considered a 3rd phase of environmental movements in the United States.
When our country was young, environmental policy largely focused on encouraging its new citizens to utilize resources as much as possible. Policies such as the Homestead Act passed in 1862 and the Timber Culture Act passed in 1873 encouraged homesteaders to move westward and cultivate the land. The 2nd ph
ase of U.S. environmental policy takes place in the early part of the 1900’s when there was concern that our resources were depleting. This is the time frame that saw conservation based policies such as the National Parks Organic Service Act of 1916 which established the modern day National Parks Service. The 3rd phase of environmental policy largely stemmed from concerns over massive amounts of pollution and health issues that were raised as a result.
2. The pollution was pretty bad.
Rachel Carson’s well known book, Silent Spring, alerted people all over the country to the disastrous consequences of pollution left unchecked. Several events around the country, such as the Donora Air Pollution event, the Cuyahoga River fires, and unhealthy air quality in major cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, and Pittsburgh, along with Ms. Carson’s book served as a ‘call to arms’ for many citizens who were concerned about how this unchecked pollution was affecting the health of people all over the country.
3. It started in 1970 and was immediately well attended.
Earth Day was started by Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in. It was celebrated around the country at two thousand colleges and universities, about ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the country. This massive amount of activity across the nation resulted in 20 million Americans participating in the very first Earth Day celebration.
4. Earth Day was originally proposed at a UNESCO conference in San Francisco.
Although started by Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in, it was actually proposed a year earlier at a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) conference by peace activist John McConnell who wanted it to be a day to honor the Earth and the concept of peace.
5. It’s not a national holiday.
Although it is celebrated millions across the United States, Earth Day is not an official national holiday. Although many employers offer the day to their employees to volunteer.
6. It is now an international movement.
Earth Day started in 1970 in the United States. Denis Hayes, however, took it international in 1990. One of the original national coordinators in 1970, he wanted to see it celebrated world wide and therefore organized events in 141 nations!
7. Senator Nelson continued environmental activism after his political career and his legacy lives on.
When his career in politics ended, Senator Nelson went on to counsel the Wilderness Society. He also went on to talk extensively about his environmental activism and the importance of its continued work. In 1995 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his environmental work. Although he passed away in 2005, several namesakes keep his legacy alive. The Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin, The Gaylord Nelson Wilderness in Wisconsin, The Governor Nelson State Park in Waunakee, Wisconsin, and the Gaylord A. Nelson Educational Center, an elementary school in Clear Lake, Wisconsin, are all named in his honor and his passion for the environment.
In 2002, a group of environmental organizations wanted to find a way to engage the community in the work that they do. The result was the Westmoreland Earth Day Celebration. Now in its 15th year, the Westmoreland Earth Day celebration is dedicated to connecting the community with environmental organizations and businesses to encourage and foster environmental stewardship. This year’s event, titled Living Green in 2017, will be on April 22, 2017 from 1PM-6PM. It’s held in conjunction with the Saint Vincent College Spring Family Weekend and will be located at Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve. For more information, visit www.westmorelandearthday.org.
9. There is lots to do!
This year’s Earth Day falls on a Saturday which gives lots of opportunities for things to do. Many host road clean ups or recycling programs. Some will join a protest movement to make their concern about the environment heard. More still will attend Earth Day celebrations all over the world. With Earth Day celebrations occurring in Westmoreland County as well as the city of Pittsburgh, our region has lots to offer. If you are not near these areas but want to attend an event, you can visit http://www.earthday.org/earthday/registerfind-an-event/ to find an Earth Day event to attend.
10. It doesn’t work without you! Or your continued support and activism!
Earth Day is just one day out of the year. It is meant to take a moment and think about your place in your environment and how you want to make a difference. Making the choice to become involved is the first and most critical step. Are you ready to commit yourself to our environment? Make the commitment this Earth Day and visit http://www.wikihow.com/Celebrate-Earth-Day to find out how you can make Earth Day everyday by working towards making our world a better, healthier place. Or visit one of the many Earth Day celebrations and talk to the many non-profit organizations and businesses out there to find out what you can do to help. Every little bit counts!