2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 – and the beginning of the environmental movement that has inspired so much healthy, positive change in how we treat our home planet. Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, US Senator from Wisconsin, came up with the idea after witnessing a massive oil spill in California. It was the Vietnam Era; Sen. Nelson hoped to infuse the energy of anti-war protests with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution to force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.
Organizers chose April 22 (between Spring Break and final exams), for an event that drew 20 million Americans — 10% of the total US population — to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast protests, uniting groups fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife. Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, gaining support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders. Congress soon passed the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts and created the US Environmental Protection Agency.