How Did That Start: Earth Day


[Earth Day was created] to inspire a public demonstration so big it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy and force the environmental issue onto the national political agenda
-Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) 1970

For many people Earth Day is a chance to think about what being mindful of the how the things that they do impacts the Earth as well as giving them a chance to try and lessen their impact on the environment. During this time several organizations and government agencies promote events around Earth Day, including right here Prairie State College, where during the month of April, you can always find a Sustainability Event to attend. But this begs the question … How Did Earth Day Start?

Although Earth Day has an actual origin date (April 22, 1970), several contributing factors led to its actual start. In the 1960s, technology in the United States had increased the amount of media coverage which the average citizen had access to. Because of this, events such as the Santa Barbara Oil Spill and the Cuyahoga River Blaze now became visible and the  human impact on the environment could be easily seen by any person. Also by the 1970s, activists such as Rachel Carson had published her landmark book Silent Spring and Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall had published The Quiet Crisis. Additionally, by this time Congress had enacted the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission and President Kennedy had taken his Natural Resources Tour. So, rather than a starting point of an the environmental movement in the United States, the beginnings of Earth Day represented the moment in time when environmentalism entered the mainstream.

Having spoken on environmental issues … during the twelve years before Earth Day, I knew the public was far ahead of the political establishment in its concern for what was happening to the environment. The signs of degradation were everywhere – polluted rivers, lakes, beaches, oceans, and air.”
-Senator Nelson

The actual celebration of Earth Day began with Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wi) who, inspired by the anti-Vietnam demonstrations and “teach-ins” decided that it would beneficial to the public to set a large-scale teach-in to educate the general public about the importance of environmental issues. He chose the date, April 22nd, to coincide with Arbor Day, and so that it would not interfere with Finals Week at college campuses. Although the day was set up by Nelson along with Republican Representative Paul McCloskey, it was really the efforts of Denis Hayes, an environmentalist student who together with the group Environmental Action worked, to coordinate the day.

Earth Day 1970 made it clear that we could summon the public support, the energy, and commitment to save our environment. And while the struggle is far from over, we have made substantial progress.”
-Senator Nelson

During the first Earth Day, nearly two thousand colleges and universities, ten thousand high schools, and grade school and several thousand communities participated. The estimated total number of Americans that were actively engaged in the day ranged in the 20 millions. Throughout cities such as New York, San Fransisco and Chicago, large crowds gathered to hear speeches from politicians, poets and ecologists. Students in Washington D.C. attended a concert held in front of the Washington Monument. Colleges and Universities held programs such as “wreck-ins” or tree planting. The University of Wisconsin, alone, held fifty-eight separate programs for the event and Senator Thomas McIntrye (D-NH) set the record for most speeches given in a day with 14.

Since the 1970s, the celebration of Earth Day has embedded and flowed, depending on the administration in power. But as you sit back on the 45th anniversary of its beginning, think about what the importance of the day means to yourself, and how you can better help the only planet we have. With that in mind, stop down at the library this month and check out some of these great titles we have on display.

Further Resources


Think Green… Start with What You Know

Green Careers : choosing work for a sustainable futureThink Green. Go Green. Green Economy. Green Energy. Green. Green. Green.

These days it seems like you can view any subject through green-tinted glasses. But like so many other cultural phenomena that lose their sparkle from overuse, “thinking green” comes dangerously close to being a fad that we will all laugh about in twenty years along with Crocs, awareness bracelets and The Macarena. The danger of course is that trivializing something as important as thinking green — a genuine desire to collectively adopt radical changes in our outlook and lifestyle in order to promote sustainable living — cannot be abandoned for a return to our short-sighted views of the past. The current popularity of this concept is also evident in the frequent instances of “greenwashing”, whereby industries, companies or people deceptively present themselves as environmentally-friendly in one respect, while masking other, less favorable positions or actions. Between the hype and the deception it may seem easier to just do nothing, not stand up for anything.

Focus on the change YOU can make 101 Ways You Can Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

The answer instead may be to focus more closely on the small changes that you can make in your daily life. An excellent way to set this course of action is to read up on green initiatives related to a topic that already interests you. The Library is currently featuring a fascinating collection of books on how green thinking is being applied across many disciplines. Check out interesting reads on medicine, beauty, careers, spirituality, energy, architecture, and more.

The Global Warming Combat Manual     The Homeonwer's Guide to Energy IndependenceIn the Green Kitchen

Exploring the green perspective on a subject you already know and care about is a great way to expand your knowledge base.

Earth Day, April 22nd, is a great time to step up your commitment to sustainability. PSC will be hosting a number of events on campus during an Earth Week Celebration (April 22-27) where you can kickstart your green thinking. Just don’t overdo it.

The Green Beauty Guide Green Medicine : challenging the assumptions of conventional health care DYI Solar Projects Green Collar Jobs (Also an ebook!)
Climate Chaos : your health at risk Greening Modernism Crimes Against Nature : illegal industries and the global environment Easy Green Living
Chasing Molecules : poisonous products, human health, and the promise of green chemistry Green Economics An Inconvenient Truth (DVD also available!) A Simple Path to Sustainability : green business strategies for small and medium-sized businesses

Check This Book Out! Morning, Noon, & Night: Finding the Meaning of Life’s Stages Through Books by Arnold Weinstein

Check out the NEW BOOKS DISPLAY for some items recently added to our collection. Featured this month is Morning, Noon, & Night: Finding the Meaning of Life’s Stages Through Books by Arnold Weinstein. As a librarian, I can’t help but recommend a book that talks about all sorts of other books you should read. Weinstein, a comparative literature professor at Brown University, discusses how great works of literature can help us understand the different stages in our lives. He talks about works as varied as Wuthering Heights, Persepolis, and King Lear to illustrate the point that throughout time books have both provided a mirror to show us how we age and also served as a tool to help us understand how we age. If you’re addicted to reading this is a great book for discussing classics both old and new, reminding you why you like your favorites, and suggesting titles for you to read next.

You can find this and any of the titles below on the NEW BOOK DISPLAY at the Prairie State College Library.

Earth Week at Prairie State College

On April 22, people around the globe will be celebrating the 41st Earth Day!

Are you thinking that one day is not enough time to recognize the importance of the earth’s health to every aspect of our lives? Well, lots of people agree with you and have stretched Earth Day into a week long celebration! Check out the activities happening around the college on the PSC Sustainability page and join in!

Ok, so you’re still thinking one week is way too little time to figure out how to avert climate change, develop clean energy, create sustainable agriculture, or learn how to cook organic foods? Stop by the library to browse our Earth Week display, and check out a book that will give you the tools to affect the future of our planet!