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CONSERVATION CORNER
(For the week of April 12, 2010)
Earth Day
by James L. Cummins

Earth Day is a global observance in many countries held each year on April 22. Many cities extend the Earth Day celebration to an entire week, usually starting on April 16th and ending on April 22nd.

In September 1969, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson was attending a conference in Seattle, Washington. He announced that in the spring of 1970, there would be a nationwide demonstration on the environment. He proposed the protest to bring awareness on a national level. Now each year, Earth Day – April 22 – marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.

At that time, Americans were guzzling leaded gas through massive sedans. Industries were polluting the air with little fear of legal consequences. This was accepted as the "smell of prosperity." Environment was a word that appeared more often in school spelling bees than on the evening news. However, Earth Day 1970 turned all of that around.

On that historical day, approximately 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. Massive coast to coast rallies were organized by Denis Hayes, the national coordinator.

Suddenly everyone began working together to protest against the deterioration of the environment. Democrats and republicans, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, labor leaders and tycoons now shared common values.

This first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passing of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts – all signed by President Richard Nixon. The highest honor given to civilians in the United States – the Presidential Medal of Freedom – was awarded to Senator Nelson for his role and leadership as the Earth Day founder.

A big campaign was launched for Earth Day 1990. This time, the event went global. Two hundred million people in 141 countries lifted the status of environmental issues on to the world stage. This gave a huge boost to worldwide recycling efforts.

Climate change awareness and a push for clean energy came on Earth Day 2000. With the help of the internet, over 5,000 environmental groups and 184 countries celebrated.

This year, Earth Day 2010, is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Let’s join the more than one billion people in 190 countries that are taking action for Earth Day to change human behavior and arouse attention for policy changes.


James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi.