Every year on April 22, the world celebrates Earth Day. Not only is Earth Day observed around the world, but it is also recognized as an international awareness day. Its focus encompasses environmental action and literacy, sustainability and conservation efforts for the health of the planet. But what is now the largest secular day has surprisingly humble origins. Here’s why Earth Day is important, its history and the connection between Earth Day and air quality.
Why Do We Celebrate Earth Day?
Earth Day is dedicated to building environmental awareness and increasing environmental literacy and understanding. As an annual observance, it allows individuals and communities alike to take action. It’s a time to inform officials and representatives about the environmental concerns that matter to you and your town and the improvements you’d like to see take place.
Earth Day History
The first Earth Day was on April 22, 1970. Then Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin was increasingly concerned about environmental issues in the United States. He was also a witness to the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara. These factors, in combination with, the protest era of the 60s and 70s gave Sen. Nelson the idea to combine widespread activism and environmental causes.
The senator recruited other members of congress, student leaders and notable activists for the cause. Their efforts and passion led to the first Earth Day in 1970. 20 million Americans across the United States gathered for the cause of greater environmental awareness, attention and action. Campaigners also wanted greater regulation to curb rampant pollution. Notably, by the end of the year, Congress passed several environmental laws and authorized the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Throughout the 60s and 70s, air pollution was a prevalent and noticeable concern for many citizens. This is partly why the original Earth Day demonstrations included calls for improved air quality and greater air pollution regulations. Thus, not surprisingly, 1970 also saw the passage of the Clean Air Act.
Importance of Earth Day
Before Earth Day, water pollution, air pollution and noise pollution were the norms. The regulation and environmental improvements we have today are due to the many Americans who united and demonstrated together for environmental action. The first Earth Day resulted in substantial action and lasting change.
Earth Day and Air Quality
Citizens expected poor outdoor air quality prior to the Clean Air Act. Additionally, air-polluting emissions were not punishable by law. Here’s the EPA’s take:
It may be hard to imagine that before 1970, a factory could spew black clouds of toxic smoke into the air or dump tons of toxic waste into a nearby stream, and that was perfectly legal. They could not be taken to court to stop it.
Without the Clean Air Act and a federal organization with regulating power (AKA the EPA), there were no encompassing or overreaching efforts to curb air pollution. It is thanks to the first Earth Day demonstrations that these protective measurements now exist.
Nevertheless, air quality and air pollution issues are not a thing of the past. While air quality has greatly improved, there is still a way to go to ensure healthy air quality for all. Both indoors and outdoors. Air pollution is not a “solved” issue, just like the health of the planet and the future of the environment are still at risk.
Celebrating Earth Day
Earth Day 1970 is not the sole reason Earth Day matters. Today, an estimated 1 billion people come together each year to recognize and participate in Earth Day campaigns.
One way to take action in your community is to advocate for indoor air quality legislation or stricter outdoor air quality regulations! After all, the environment and air pollution are inextricably linked.