In the midst of the hippie culture reaching its peak in 1970, protest and controversy were the order of the day. The death of Jimi Hendrix, the release of the last Beatles album, and immense success of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” had everyone talking pop culture. The Vietnam War was beginning and was surrounded with a mass amount of student protest.
Simultaneously, the environment was being harmed like never before, yet no attention was being paid to it. The auto industry introduced gas-guzzling sedans, industrial plants breathed out smoke and sludge, and air pollution was looked at as a sign of success and prosperity. The word “environment” was foreign to many as Americans remained oblivious to the environmental concerns. There were individuals however who realized that something needed to be done.
Earth Day 1970 capitalized raising environmental consciousness through channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movements and putting environmental concerns front and center.
The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970. The idea was to refocus people’s energy onto something positive, such as helping the environment. On this pilot Earth Day, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and cities to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values. Earth Day resulted in an alignment of various groups as they put their differences aside and realized that the environment needed help.
As a result of the first Earth Day’s success, the United States Environmental Protection Agency was created and the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts were all passed. In 1990, Earth Day expanded to be a world-wide recognized day. This led to the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. In 2000, Earth Day would focus on a push for clean energy and a focus on global warming. Earth Day continues to be an important and widely celebrated holiday.
Since this first Earth Day, Michigan State University has done their part to contribute to saving our planet. The early ‘70s paved the way for the emergence of the Red Cedar River Clean up, later that decade, recycling centers were introduced around campus and now, we see all graduates wearing caps and gowns made of recycled material. Despite, MSU’s continued efforts towards fostering a sustainable environment, we can still do more. The Simon Power Plant is scheduled to reach capacity in 2023 for meeting all the campus needs — I propose that we look into alternate sources of energy for the University instead of relying on the coal plants. Furthermore, there is no glass pick-up recycling in the residence halls. Students who live in the halls, who often times don’t have cars, must make their way out to the Recycling Center to drop off glass materials — this concept should be reevaluated. I hope in the future that we can continue to make conscious efforts to conserve our earth and further progress towards a sustainable environment.
Earth Day and Sustainability Effort Links: