Last week we celebrated Earth Day. Earth Day started on April 22nd, 1970, and was created by Senator Gaylord Nelson. So in this episode, we are going to discuss how Earth Day came into what it is today, what it is, and its focus. We are also going to talk about how they spread the word back then when there weren’t social media. Can you name some government organizations that might have been created from this day? We discuss that as well. Take a listen.
CLARICE: All right. Hello, everybody. Happy Friday. Welcome to this week’s episode of Environmentally Speaking.
MARISA: Happy Good Friday. This is Marisa Desautel. I’m an environmental attorney.
CLARICE: Yes. And quick little update. So today we wanted to –
MARISA: Wait. Wait. Wait. Who the heck are you?
CLARICE: Oh, shoot. Yeah. You guys know. I’m Clarice. I come in with your questions, your comments. I’m really excited today. Today I have decided to take the reins and present our topic, so, you know, forget my name. I just want to get into it. We are talking about Earth Day. Last week we talked about earth month and some activities that were happening and I was like, that’s a good jumping off point to talk about what Earth Day actually is and where it came from. And little update before we get into it. I didn’t go plogging, but I went plalking. I picked up trash while I walked.
MARISA: No. You cannot just – you don’t have the jurisdiction to make up your own Earth Day activity. It’s plogging or nothing.
CLARICE: Oh, okay. So update, folks. You can only pick up trash if you’re going to run with it which is so much more casual and nonchalant than just picking it up as you’re walking.
MARISA: Well, and for those of you that didn’t listen to our previous episode we talked about this activity called plogging, p-l-o-g-g-i-n-g. It’s encouraged, if you want to celebrate Earth Day, to go for a run and, like Clarice just said, pick up trash along your route. It’s a thing. Hashtag Plogging.
CLARICE: Yeah. It’s a real thing. I think was it – did it start in Sweden?
MARISA: I think so.
MARISA: [inaudible] Swedes.
CLARICE: Yeah. It sounds like an Ikea name. Let’s be honest. Which end table did you get? Oh, I got the plogging.
CLARICE: Yeah. It came in three colors. So I didn’t –
MARISA: So you did walking and trash pick up. That’s good.
CLARICE: I did walking and trash pick up. I am not a runner. I have no reason to run unless it is a sale, so I just picked up trash while I walked. That was my own little mild version. So, yeah, if you guys are out on a walk – as Marisa says, you have to jog and pick up trash.
CLARICE: I think if you walk and pick up trash just don’t tell us. We’ll be just as happy. Yeah. I wanted to talk about Earth Day. And I did a little research this week and found out our first Earth Day was only in 1970. It’s not that old. I was really surprised by that.
MARISA: Yeah. It makes sense if you consider that the advent of almost all of the federal environmental statutes were enacted in the early ‘70s.
CLARICE: Yeah. So in April 22nd, 1970, the first Earth Day was created by Senator Gaylord Nelson and he did this largely – I know. You know, he didn’t pick his name. We like him anyway. Maybe his buddies just all called him Nelson. Poor man, did so much good. Names that have faded out of current society.
[0:03:15] MARISA: Oh, God.
CLARICE: Bless him.
MARISA: Okay. A great guy.
CLARICE: So, yeah, great guy. He is considered one of the first conservation senators. He was from Wisconsin, not a place that I would necessarily first think of for its beautiful outdoors and its beautiful environments, but from what I’m told it is really beautiful out there. So, yeah, he was very big into environmental protection, a lot of conservation. He was a key player in JFK’s tour of national parks and conservation lands. So, you know, he’s doing all this great work. He’s shouting about the glory of the trees. He’s trying to protect the environment. But the downside is is at the time, like you hinted, there’s no EPA. There’s no EPA. There’s no Clean Water Act, no Clean Air Act, so a lot of his shouting about the importance is falling on deaf ears.
So as a way to kind of stir the pot to get people’s attention, he really believed in campus style protest and campus kind of awareness which is that grass roots, you know, very basic level, let’s get communities together. So he decided to create Earth Day and Earth Day was celebrated by tens of thousands of people on April 22nd in the ‘70s and from there a lot of local governments couldn’t really ignore it and they started – you know, these folks started reaching out to their own congressmen, their own senators and started putting up a big stink about it making a lot of noise and Earth Day became a thing.
MARISA: How did he spread the word if there was no social media in the ‘70s? there was no cell phones.
CLARICE: I think it was a lot of, I’m going to tell people on my campus and I’m going to travel to other campuses. And like when I say campuses, I mean he really focused a lot on college campuses. He did a lot of speaking there. He got in touch with like local environmental groups. I don’t know if any of you guys in your college had an environmental club or a recycling club, things like that. So clubs like that did exist in the ‘70s and that’s where he focused a lot of his energy. And he reached out to other senators who had similar beliefs, similar goals and encouraged them to go back to their home states and say, hey, go to your colleges. Get them talking about this and I guess the good old fashioned word of mouth —
[0:05:55] MARISA: Yeah.
CLARICE: — which I feel now is exclusively for Earth Day promotion and that one contractor that everybody goes to. Everybody’s got that one guy.
MARISA: Yeah. You’re right.
CLARICE: He’s never advertised. It’s word of mouth, man.
MARISA: Word of mouth only.
CLARICE: So, yeah.
MARISA: Okay. What else?
CLARICE: Oh, goodness. So I have to say I did read a bunch of quotes from him and I read a lot of him talking about the importance of Earth Day and what his goals for it was and how at the time he saw the earth going down this really dark path of severe pollution, no repercussions. I mean, you have to think a lot of factories – not to be dramatic but a lot of factories from the Industrial Revolution had continued to go on check. So think like early 1900s getting paid like a shilling, that sort of pollution and that sort of like ye old fashioned Oliver Twist style of operation was still kind of going on which is disturbing.
MARISA: What is going on in your head?
CLARICE: So many things.
MARISA: A shilling?
CLARICE: Yeah. But like, you know, Oliver Twist like, you know, can I have some more. Nothing?
CLARICE: You’re doing me dirty. You’re doing me dirty on my own episode. So yeah, long shorty short, he had – I started reading a lot of kind of – not soundbites because this was more like written quotes and in interviews from him. And he was really concerned with the unchecked destruction that was happening, the fact that these industrial companies didn’t have anybody to answer to. There was nothing wrong with dumping in a river. There was no protection. It didn’t exist. So that kind of extreme – I’m going to call it extreme pollution because nowadays I think it would be shocking for us to see, although it doesn’t – not to say it doesn’t happen. I think it would be a lot more of an outcry now because we have these laws in place. So he talked a lot about that fear and watching all of the clean, pure, natural habitats get destroyed by carelessness.
CLARICE: So his real goal for Earth Day was not only to spread awareness but to really cause dramatic change and to really cause people to think twice about polluting. I will say, spoiler, a lot of his quotes were really hopeful that we would completely revert and this would no longer be a problem which is why I’m not reading any of his quotes because they were so hopeful and we are just not there yet. And that was kind of a bummer.
MARISA: So is it fair to say that this politician created a platform from which all of the federal environmental statutes came from?
MARISA: Or were the statutes already in the works and Earth Day evolved during that time period?
CLARICE: No. He was definitely the platform that created it. This was something that he had been really asking for and really trying to promote and discuss in government and it was just falling on deaf ears over and over again. People were not taking him seriously. They were not listening. And what it comes down to is at the end of the day your congressmen and your senators are working for you. It doesn’t feel that way. I know there’s a whole lot of getting involved in government and all of that, but you as the constituents get to decide if they keep their job. So if you suddenly have a bunch of people asking for this one thing and those people get to decide your job, you’re going to start to pay attention to that one thing. So it’s that sort of Earth Day noise that brought about things that I was saying before, the EPA, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, basic checks and balances about not dumping toxins into rivers.
[0:09:57] MARISA: Yeah.
CLARICE: So, yeah, he’s also –
CLARICE: Yeah. He’s considered the father of Earth Day.
MARISA: Is he still with us?
CLARICE: Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t look. I’m going to look right now.
MARISA: Okay. It’s possible, right, if he was in his 30s?
CLARICE: Oh, no.
CLARICE: No. He passed on July 3rd, 2005, so he was with us for a while.
MARISA: Oh, yeah.
MARISA: Sounds like a solid dude.
CLARICE: Yeah. He died at 89. That’s not bad.
CLARICE: So, yeah, he is our first – he’s considered one of our first conservation senators. He’s the founder of Earth Day. You could even go as far as saying he might be the grandfather of the EPA considering without his noise we might not have it.
CLARICE: And if you go on the EPA’s website, they have a ton of stuff about Earth Day right now, the impact it’s had since its creation. They have a cute little countdown, how many days till Earth Day, things you can do to celebrate every day until the countdown. For those who are teachers, there’s tons of great lesson ideas and free lesson planning on how to incorporate it into your classrooms. Just makes spreading that news a little bit easier. So, yeah, thanks, Gaylord.
MARISA: What’s on the EPA website that shows the positive impact Earth Day has had? Any little factoids there?
CLARICE: So if you go – I’m sorry?
MARISA: Any little factoids on the website?
CLARICE: Not right on the homepage, but if you click around it will have different sections. And, I mean, really just the EPA’s website is already the first big impact of Earth Day, the fact that that exists. Well, without Earth Day we wouldn’t have had the EPA, so to have its own website I’m counting that as an Earth Day win. But you can go through it and find all of these resources. They talk a lot about the history of Earth Day, new laws and regulations that have been enacted. You can search those by topic, business compliance, whatever you’re looking for specifically. And then they have tons and tons of subtopics to educate yourself. There’s sections on air, climate change, chemicals and toxins, environmental justice, land waste and cleanup. So there’s tons and tons of resources. And right now, like I said, their homepage is Earth Day themed.
MARISA: I like the idea that they provide some resources for educators to incorporate environmental teaching and lesson planning kind of stuff because getting kids involved and interested in the planet and its natural resources is the way that you start to make changes in society..
[0:13:00] CLARICE: Yeah. And looking at that tab, if it helps they have different environmental categories broken up. So if you’re looking to do a lesson plan on climate change, air, energy, water, they have subcategories, so you can start to get really specific with your kids about that. And it’s not easy. It’s not easy to – you know, something so big as acid rain, how are you going to explain that to a kindergartener.
CLARICE: So this has some –
MARISA: Without scaring the crap out of them.
CLARICE: Yeah. Just kids going off the bus crying. It’s going to rain.
MARISA: Our skin is going to fall off.
CLARICE: They’ve got some really approachable lesson plans and it’s such a daunting topic, so to have those resources to lean on just makes it a little bit easier to have the conversation.
MARISA: Well, thank you so much. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know most of that information that you just shared, so I appreciated hearing it.
CLARICE: That’s all right. As of Tuesday I didn’t know either. Yeah. I’m going to ask that we post – there’s a very classically ‘70s picture of William Kelly with Gaylord Nelson high-fiving about the creation of Earth Day.
MARISA: Oh, that’s a good one.
CLARICE: Oh, it’s so ‘70s cheesy. It’s great. We’re going to post that guy.
MARISA: Great. Awesome.
CLARICE: All right, everybody. Keep plogging. Keep plalking. I’m making it a word. Have a happy earth month. Let us know how you’re celebrating. Let us know what you’re doing. If you have any questions, comments, topics you want us to dive into, let us know. Reach out to us at Help@DesautelESQ.com and hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Thanks, guys.
MARISA: Thanks. See ya.