Digging in to Earth Day

| By Debra Kirby |

On April 22, Earth Day will be observed by more than a billion people in nearly 200 countries, making it the world’s largest civic observance. The first Earth Day was held in 1970, a year I remember well. I had recently moved to a smaller high school where the student body was less diverse and more conservative. When I found out that my new school had no plans to mark the important occasion, I gathered a few like-minded friends and, with a sense of righteous indignation, we marched out to the parking lot to pick up trash! Not the most impactful way to celebrate the first ever Earth Day, but the effort apparently helped cement my reputation as a “rebel egg head,” as I learned years later when I was introduced as such to more than one former classmate’s spouse at our 20th high school reunion.

Many years later I can’t recall much about that day or even, now I think of it, the history behind Earth Day. But having access to Gale’s rich database content, I recently set out to educate myself. Here’s what I found:

  • The concept for Earth Day began with United States Senator Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin Democrat, who in 1969 proposed a series of environmental teach-ins on college campuses across the nation. Hoping to satisfy a course requirement at Harvard by organizing a teach-in there, law student Denis Hayes flew to Washington, DC, to interview Nelson, who persuaded Hayes to drop out of Harvard and organize the nationwide series of events. (Science In Context)

  • The first Earth Day served as a catalyst for the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. (Student Resources In Context)
  • Several years prior to the first Earth Day, the environmental alarm was first heard by large numbers of Americans through the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in September 1962. The publication of Silent Spring and its impact on public awareness of environmental issues has been compared to the impact that Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) had upon views about slavery in America. The book helped set a national agenda by identifying a technological risk, sparking a rigorous scientific debate, reporting on industrial indifference, creating a high level of public concern, and demanding governmental responsibility. (Student Resources In Context)

How will you celebrate Earth Day this year? I’ll be marching in support of science in Ann Arbor, Michigan and spending the weekend participating in an online Teach Out sponsored by the University of Michigan. Once a rebel egg head, always a rebel egg head.

Megan McCarthy


About the Author


When Debra, a 30-year veteran of the publishing industry, is not working or reading, she can be found gardening, running, swimming, or pursuing the lifelong learning that is at the tip of her fingers via Gale databases.


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