On April 22, 1970, Americans pledged environmental action for the planet. Here’s what scientists and we, the global community, have done since
By Smithsonian magazine
SMITHSONIANMAG.COM | April 22, 2020, 7:20 a.m
When Gaylord Nelson stepped up to the podium in April 1970, his voice rang with powerful purpose. The Wisconsin senator set forth a challenge for America—a call to arms that he declared a “big concept”: a day for environmental action that would go beyond just picking up litter.“
Winning the environmental war is a whole lot tougher than winning any other war in history,” he said. “Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.”–Gaylord Nelson
In the half-century since concerned people all across the United States took steps to repair a world rife with pollution, litter, ecological devastation, political apathy and wildlife on the brink, great strides have been made and major setbacks have been recorded. An estimated 20 million Americans volunteered their time and energy to live up to Nelson’s goal. Inspired by man-made disasters like the burning of Ohio’s Cuyahoga River and an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, environmentalists of the day pushed the nation and the world to recognize the damage they were inflicting on the planet and to change course. Social justice lawyers and urban city planners took up the hard effort of bringing this vision to the impoverished, the hungry and the discriminated.