NO PLANET B: A history of Earth Day, it’s importance

This is a column part of a monthly series called “No Planet B” written by Sustainability & Energy Management Coordinator Chelsea Malacara and her sustainability interns. This series aims to provide insight on how we can begin to think and make sustainable choices on campus for a better future. 

In the years leading up to the first Earth Day, things were looking grey for planet Earth. In the United States, “Americans were consuming vast amounts of leaded gas” andcompanies were pumping out pollutants on land, in waterways, and into the air. It wasn’t until the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring” that people started to think about the environment and the impact their lifestyles had on it.

During the 50s and 60s, the insecticide DDT was heavily used in the agriculture industry to help protect crops. Studies found that some animals that were exposed to DDT developed tumors in their liver, and adverse reproductive effects were suspected in humans and other animals. Finally, in 1972, the EPA “issued a cancellation order for DDT based on its adverse environmental effects” due to negative impact on wildlife and had potential risks to humans.

In 1969 theoil spill in Santa Barbara, California seen by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson inspired many to take action to advocate for the protection and conservation of the environment. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a teach-in around college campuses to the media. He got Davied Hayes, founder of the Earth Day Network, to organize the teach-ins on a weekday that fell between spring break and finals, April 22, 1970.

The establishment of Earth Day served as a launchpad for a decade of change.

On Oct. 3, 1970, the United States Government established the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Throughout the 1970s, the US enacted some of the most important environmental laws and regulations such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (1969), Clean Air Act (CAA) (1970), Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments (CWA) (1972), Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) (1972), Endangered Species Act (ESA) (1973), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) (1976), Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund) (1980).

Prior to these movements and laws, it was “perfectly legal fora factory to dump toxic waste into nearby streams, or to “spew black clouds of toxic smoke.” The year after the initial Earth Day, 25% of Americans polled in May “declared protecting the environment to be an important goal.”

By 1990, theselaws and their amendments were put into play and enforced. It was later that year that environmental leaders proposed the idea of making Earth Day a global event in which the entire world participates in advocating for the environment and making a change in their lifestyle. Earth Day April 22nd, 1990, gave rise to recycling efforts worldwide and “prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role as Earth Day founder.”

Every year, more and more people participate in Earth Day activities which means that more people become aware of the importance of protecting the planet. While we should think of every day as Earth Day, the day itself is an important reminder to take care of the Earth and to reflect on the possible consequences of our actions.

Celebrate Earth Month 2022 at Marquette

  • Earth Day Reuse Fair, April 11am-2pm, AMU Lawn: Thrift for new clothes, accessories and housewares or come by and turn an old t-shirt into a tote bag!

Marquette University Highlights

  • 2014- MUSG spent $55,000 on water bottle refilling stations and the to-go box system.
  • 2016- Marquette hired its first sustainability coordinator in addition to implementing the majors’ environmental studies and environmental engineering.
  • 2016-MUSG funds that installation of Bublr Bike rack on campus
  • 2018-Campus cafes adopted compostable cups in place of plastic cups.
  • 2018-Marquette published its first Campus Sustainability Plan
  • 2019-Marquette converted all lights in the 16thstreet parking garage to LED’s
  • 2020-Sustainable Marquette Employee Resource Group founded
  • 2021-Four bike repair stations installed around campus

This story was written by Alvaro Clara. He is a sustainability intern for Chelsea Malacara, the Sustainability & Energy Management Coordinator for Marquette University. He is not a staff member for the Wire. He can be reached at [email protected]