Today in History – April 22, 1970 – First Earth Day. Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, says that the idea for Earth Day evolved over a period of seven years starting in 1962. He wanted President Kennedy to give visibility to pollution and the environmental degradation that was appearing throughout the country, but was going unnoticed by the political establishment. The anti-Vietnam War demonstrations called “teach-ins” were popular on college campuses and he decided to organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment, tapping into both the energy of the student anti-war movement and the environmental cause. A Sunday, November 30, 1969, New York Times article by Gladwin Hill forecast that this was going to be a massive event:
“Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam…a national day of observance of environmental problems…is being planned for next spring…when a nationwide environmental ‘teach-in’ …
Senator Gaylord Nelson explains that Earth Day worked “because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated.”
Today with global warming and another energy crises, sustainability is a top international concern and an estimated 1 billion people will do something to observe the anniversary of the first Earth Day. People will participate in marches and protests, family and community activities, clean-up days, tree-planting events, saving water, saving energy, nature walks, and sustainability events. A coalition of U.S. government agencies provides more on the history of Earth Day, environmental progress and Earth Day activities.
I am pleased to see a dramatic change in government action to aggressively work on climate and environmental issues. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson challenges all Americans to “begin building the green economy“, Department of Energy’s Steven Chu tackling global warming.
Expressions like “Green is the new black”, “Green is the new red, white and blue” and “green commerce”, such as that highlighted in ABC’s “Green Gadgets for Earth Day” news, demonstrate that green design is big business today. Alas some of these efforts are really “green washing” and are more effective at ringing up sales than in helping the environment. We should encourage life cycle analysis thinking with our students to seriously look at the long term environmental impact of new products, energy options and strategies.
The Engineering Pathway has a number of resources on green design, manufacturing and sustainability as well as on environmental ethics. For more educational resources, see our agricultural engineering education, environmental engineering education and chemical engineering education community pages. The Engineering Pathway also hosts Engineering Education communities in all ABET-accredited disciplines, including interdisciplinary communities such as the Green Design and Sustainable Engineering education community.