Thursday, April 29, 2010

Earth Day's Origins and Where it's Come

By Chris Brancato

On April 22, 1970, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin founded Earth Day as a way to inspire awareness and appreciation for the earth’s environment. Forty years later, Earth Day hasn’t lost any of its momentum, remaining as relevant and important as ever.

On Earth Day’s founding day, approximately 20 million demonstrators and schools of local communities participated in events to counter the risks of environmental neglect that had been piling up over the years. College and university students around the country also protested for this cause. Such vital issues as oil spills, raw sewage, toxic dumps, and the extinction of wildlife soon became pertinent matters that were brought to the recognition of mainstream America.

What started out as an aspiration to raise awareness began receiving mass amounts of participation and even media recognition, with CBS offering a special report entitled “Earth Day: A Quest For Survival.” Not only were politicians pushing for this movement of awareness, but also around the major U.S. cities, famous actors and literary figures were offering their support for an issue that they found to be important.

“The idea of Earth Day had actually first come about in 1962,” Nelson said. His goal was to originally introduce the idea to President Kennedy. After doing so, Kennedy trekked out on a national conservation tour, but for reasons unclear, never mentioned the idea of Earth Day. Nelson often headed out to speak about environmental matters and gained the support of people for an Earth Day, only the politicians were never fully interested.

Eventually, on September 20, 1969, Nelson spoke at a conference in Seattle, saying that there would be a “nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate,” he wrote later.

The idea took off and Nelson found it to be the most opportune time to introduce “Earth Day” to the masses. With the support of millions, Nelson said: “That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.”

As 40 years passed, the idea of Earth Day has never faded. Technology has helped in its favor, especially once the Internet came into play. Over the past two decades environmental matters were often at the forefront in terms of politics and presidential races. It soon became trendy to “go green” and support the environment, especially after 2000 presidential nominee Al Gore harped on Global warming and its catastrophic presence. People were soon trading in their SUV’s for smaller vehicles and conserving the amount of electricity that was used within their households on average daily basis.

On the official website for Earth Day – – many people are pledging how they plan to participate on this year’s Earth Day, with responses like “We will shop at the local farmers market, using our own bags, and eat as many locally sourced meals as possible for the entire year”; “I will hang out my laundry on a clothes line and not use my clothes dryer”; and “I won't have shower today :) “

Yet Earth Day still manages to bring about ethical debates amongst supporters. Since its early days, Earth Day has presented strong anti-business sentiment that was aimed at challenging corporate and government leaders. Today, many corporations are using the event as a marketing source, reports the New York Times. Everyone from “Gray Line,” a New York sight seeing company, to FAO Schwartz has found ways to integrate Earth Day into their products and offerings.

Quoted by the New York Times, Denis Hayes, formerly the national coordinator of the first Earth Day, said: “This ridiculous perverted marketing has cheapened the concept of what is really green,” and called it “tragic.”

But others find themselves on the fence with questionable matters such as this. “It’s hard to say whether or not I disagree with the consumerism angle of Earth Day,” said Stephanie Sampedro, a recent college grad. “I understand where the discontent is coming from and how corporate greed is a major figure at play, but if it’s helping to advertise a positive cause that is worth celebrating, then maybe it isn’t so bad.”

Regardless of where any one stands on the matter, Earth Day has overcome many struggles to be where it is now. To help support, many local communities offer up quick and easy ways to participate either as part of a group participation or on an individual basis. Even once Earth Day is over, there is still a plethora of ways to offer our services. offers an itinerary of upcoming events that we all can participate in, either in person or over even the web here:

Chris Brancato is a senior at Ramapo College of New Jersey, studying Communications with a concentration in Journalism. He has written for his school paper, The Ramapo News, and has interned for Rolling Stone magazine. He will be graduating in May and aspires towards a career in music journalism.

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