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Earth Day: From Origins to Organizations!

By EcoRep Muriel Baki

Publication Date: April 21, 2021

Cartoon man wearing "Earth Day 2021" t-shirt picks up trash on a mountain of disposable masks

With Earth Day fast approaching on April 22, Broncs in the Office of Sustainability are busy preparing for the culmination of Earth Month, which has occurred every April since 1970. The Office of Sustainability at Rider has been hosting events to celebrate the day since 2009.

The first Earth Day occurred in 1970 as a response to the increasingly disposable consumerism that was rampant in the United States in the 50s and 60s. After the end of World War II, the United States employed its wartime factories and infrastructure to create more disposable and single-use products than had ever existed before.

The ease and convenience of throwing something away instead of cleaning and storing it was sold to the public as the way of the future. Unfortunately, the effect of this attitude was a huge spike in pollutants and litter around the United States.

In response to the lack of care for the environment, small groups formed throughout the sixties which began to fight against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife.

Rachel Carson published her groundbreaking novel “Silent Spring” in 1962, which brought national attention to the dangers of pesticides and pollutants in the environment.

Frank Rusciano, a political science professor said, “‘Silent Spring’ changed everything. More Americans than ever were realizing that their behavior was a serious threat to the environment.”

Earth Day was created by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin in [year]. An environmentalist himself, he was inspired by the passion and drive of the student anti-war movement which was happening at universities around the country and hoped to connect and unify them with the grassroots groups of the emerging environmentalist movement.

Nelson created a national staff, consisting of only 85 people, to promote various events which eventually broadened to include a wide range of organizations, faith groups and more. This was the largest singular environmental group in the U.S. up to this point, and it caught on quickly with the younger population.

They dubbed April 22 Earth Day, which sparked national media attention and the environment began to enter conversations across the country. Small groups all over were unified in protest of the industrial overuse of natural resources and the national attitude towards the planet. Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders.

Micah Rasmussen (‘92), Director of The Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, shared, “Senator Nelson came to Rider in 1990 and it was a moving way to celebrate the twentieth Earth Day. His words, which we heard as students gathered around him in couches at the Student Center, continue to inspire how I think about the way we interact with our world.”

By July 1970, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed, and by the end of the year, passed the first environmental protection laws — including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Clean Air Act. This legislation was groundbreaking, amplifying the conversation, and within the next few years, the Clean Water Act, The Endangered Species Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act were all passed.

Since 1970, Earth Day has grown and thrived as the environmental situation has grown increasingly important and dire.

Last year was the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day and, despite it being the beginning of the pandemic, there were numerous online opportunities to get involved and get educated, as well as initiatives for action at home to protect the planet.

Natalie Leclair, a sophomore musical theater major said, “It’s really inspiring to see what people have been able to do for the planet throughout the pandemic, I think many people did a lot of learning and I hope now they’ll be ready to hit the ground running and take action.”

This year the Green Team is thrilled to be back in person for Earth Month events. In addition to the annual beach sweep in partnership with Clean Ocean Action, we will be hosting a safe and socially distant outdoor Earth Day gathering on April 22 from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on the Campus Green with opportunities to learn, see student performances, connect with environmentalists and pick up sustainable and useful items for everyday use on and off campus.

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