Earth Day

The First Earth Day

This story begins on January 28th, 1969 when Union Oils drilling rig in Santa Barbara, California, encountered a well blowout that would seep as much as 4.2 million gallons of crude oil into the Santa Barbara channel. The spill wouldn’t be stopped for 11 days, and the damage would reach as far as Mexico.

Photo Credit: University of California Santa Barbara Map and Image Library
Photo Credit: February 14, 1969. University of California Santa Barbara Map and Image Library

This particular oil spill and the damage that it would do- would have a profound impact on a Senator (And former Governor) from Wisconsin. This senator’s name was Gaylord Nelson. He was a politician and an avid advocate for the environment. 

Shortly after Senator Nelson would see the spill for himself. He would find himself inspired to suggest that campuses should dedicate one day where they would hold events that would educate and raise awareness on the dangers and threats to the environment. Empowering people to restore and take care of the natural world. 

Unbeknownst to the Senator, he would find more support than he anticipated for this inspired idea. The following spring of 1970, on April 22nd,  Earth Day would celebrate its first birthday as an environmental movement. And over 20 million people would celebrate as well!  Earth Day took off beyond campuses and into organizations, and across Wisconsin state lines into the rest of the nation. 

A statement taken from the Earth Day website goes in-depth about the first day in 1970: 

“Groups that had been fighting individually against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife united on Earth Day around these shared common values. Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders. 

By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other first of their kind environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act,  the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act.  Two years later Congress passed the Clean Water Act.  A year after that, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act and soon after the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. 

These laws have protected millions of men, women, and children from disease and death and have protected hundreds of species from extinction.”  

By 1990, the observation of Earth Day had spread globally. With over 200 million people and 141 countries engaging. As of 2020, which was the 50th anniversary, there were over 1 BILLION people that have taken action, and over 190 countries have participated. It goes to show how just one person, can make the world of a difference- just by simply starting a conversation. 

We think it would be safe to say that most of us want to plan for American children, from Native to newcomer, whether they’re Black, brown, or white to live in an environment that is not just good, but pristine for them. But time and time again, the efforts of the people are thwarted by greedy corporations more concerned with lining the pockets of certain politicians with wads of cash for political power. Meanwhile, these wealthy few try to tear communities apart to distract us from the truth. That their profit and power are more important than the poisoning of the planet and putting the people in the middle of a climate crisis. 

That’s why it’s so necessary to take action in honor of Earth Day today. We can continue to push forward to protect the environment for our children, to ensure that they have clean air and water, for generations to come.

How Can We Take Action?

  • Volunteer for one of the many organizations that are fighting for Climate Justice. They do the incredible work that pushes for Wisconsin and beyond to move forward into using the clean energy that we need. 
  • Host a socially distanced spring clean-up in your neighborhood and communities. 
  • Attend a Virtual Event. Watch out on our social media for opportunities! 
  • Go Traditional, plant a tree. 
  • Contact your legislators. Tell them to support Wisconsin legislators taking action using Clean Energy to build back better. 

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