In 1980 just 10 years after the very first Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day founder, reflected on the changes Earth day inspired in the first 10 years.
How Did Earth Day 1970 Change the Nation?
My primary objective in planning Earth Day was to show the political leadership of the Nation that there was broad and deep support for the environmental movement. While I was confident that a nationwide peaceful demonstration of concern would be impressive, I was not quite prepared for the overwhelming response that occurred on that day. Two thousand colleges and universities, ten thousand high schools and grade schools, and several thousand communities in all, more than twenty million Americans participated in one of the most exciting and significant grassroots efforts in the history of this country.
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. In the ten years since 1970 much of the basic legislation needed to protect the environment has been enacted into law: the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Water Pollution and Control Act Amendments, the Resource Recovery Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. And, the most important piece of environmental legislation in our history, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law on January 1, 1970. NEPA came about in response to the same public pressure which later produced Earth Day.
As the Council on Environmental quality’s retrospective introduction to their tenth annual report states:
In some ways, NEPA may turn out to be the most influential of our environmental laws for it not only sets forth our basic national goals for environmental protection, but it also tells us that essential to achieving them is foresight.
There have been other accomplishments. Today, almost every State has one or more agencies charged with protecting its environment and natural resources. Nearly 150 universities and colleges have programs for environmental education. As of Dec. 30, 1979, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had made grants of $24.9 billion for municipal wastewater treatment projects. Firms making equipment used to clean up air and water pollution had sales of $1.8 billion in 1977 and are growing about twice as fast as the rest of U.S. industry.
The quote above follows changes made just 10 years from Earth Day’s inception. Now 45 years later, the policies enacted by the EPA have measurable results that tracked over the 45 years, are astounding.
- Air pollution has been cut over 70%
- Acid rain has been reduced by 60%
- Bald Eagles, once facing extinction, have recovered and are no longer on the endangered species list.
Some positive health effects include 10% increase in lung size in children over the last 20 years In the 70’s, 80% of children had elevated levels of lead in their systems, After the adoption of unleaded gas, this number has been reduced to less that 1 % .
Earth Day reminds us of the fragile balances between man and nature and that human impact on earth demands monitoring and focus on nurturing our earth at the forefront. This year, on April 22nd, the EPA would like to inspire us to conserve, sustain, recycle, and celebrate. There are many celebrations, work days, projects all over the country to help you enjoy Earth Day 2015! Visit the EPA Website for local activities in your area