On April 22, schools around the country will celebrate Earth Day, with record participation from young students. Whether for the entire week or just the day, hands-on activities will raise students' awareness about their relationship with the planet, how they can help improve the air, water and soil for future generations, and how environmental health is essential to peace and harmony all over the globe. However, it wasn't so long ago that Earth Day didn't exist, and young environmentalists didn't have the voice they have today.
In front of a small conservation group in Seattle in September 1969, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed a day when people concerned about the environment raise awareness and send a strong environmental message to political leaders. Seven months later, the first Earth Day was born, and over 20 million people from incredibly diverse and often disparate groups united to voice their support for environmental protection. For Nelson, "Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human being and all living creatures."
In December 1970, Congress authorized the formation of a new federal agency: the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “in response to the growing public demand for cleaner water, air and land. The EPA was tasked with the challenging goal of repairing the damage already done to the environment and to establish guidelines to help Americans in making a cleaner—and safer—environment a reality.”
Forty years later--April 22, 2011--we celebrate the passage of laws that promote cleaner air, water and soil, protection for endangered species and important habitats, responsible energy policy, restrictions on dumping, pollution, waste, and pesticides, and many other laws and regulations that have benefited the planet we call home.
To learn more about Earth Day, visit the EPA web site.