| The History of Earth Day
April 22, 1999 marks the 29th anniversary of the first Earth Day. Originally called the "First Environmental Teach-in," Earth Day was modeled after the anti-Vietnam War teach-ins of the late 1960s. An estimated 20 million Americans participated in environmental rallies, demonstrations and other activities on that first Earth Day. Former Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) was the chief organizer of the event. In addition, Nelson recruited Denis Hayes, at the time a recent graduate of Stanford University, to assist in organizing the nationwide Earth Day activities. Recalled Nelson in an October 1990 speech: "...[T]he idea for Earth Day occurred to me in late July 1969, while on a conservation speaking tour out West. At the time there was a great deal of turmoil on the college campuses over the Vietnam War. Protests, called anti-war teach-ins, were being widely held on campuses across the nation. I read an article on the teach-ins, and it suddenly occurred to me, why not have a nationwide teach-in on the environment? That was the origin of Earth Day."
Environmental Progress Since the First Earth Day
* Automobile Emissions: Automobile pollutants have dropped dramatically over the past three decades. Between 1968 and 1993, total highway vehicle emissions of carbon monoxide dropped 96%, hydrocarbons by 96% and nitrogen oxides by 76% - despite a doubling of vehicle miles traveled during that period. Source: Ted Leonard, "Earth Day Recognition of The Automobile's Progress," Pennsylvania AAA Federation, April 12, 1996.
* Water Quality: Between 1975 and 1993, the amount of organic wastes released into water fell by 46%; the release of toxic organics fell by 99%; and the release of toxic metals fell by 98%. Phosphorus, fecal coliform and dissolved oxygen levels in rivers and streams exceeding local standards declined between 1974 and 1990. 75% of America's streams and rivers, 82% of its lakes and 87% of its estuaries were considered safe for swimming in 1990. Source: Sterling Burnett, "Five Principles for a Better Environment," Brief Analysis No. 262, National Center for Policy Analysis, April 22, 1998; and "Index of Leading Environmental Indicators," Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy.
* Cleaner Technology: Market-driven technological improvements have enabled industry to produce basic goods with much less waste and inefficiency. Steel cans are 60% lighter than they were in 1955; aluminum cans weigh only two-thirds as much as they did 10 years ago; glass bottles are 30% lighter; plastic bottles are 30% lighter, and disposable diapers now use 50% less paper pulp. Source: "Make a Profit, Save the Earth," Editorial, Investor's Business Daily, April 22, 1998.