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Earth Day History


Earth Day History: History of the concerns about pollution of the environment that resulted in the establishment of Earth Day.

Definition and Summary of the Earth Day History
Summary and definition:
Learn about the events in history that led to concerns about pollution of the environment that resulted in the establishment of Earth Day. And how early environmentalists and conservationists attempted to address the problems. The history of man-made inventions that adversely effected the environment and natural resources.

The history of industrialization, the factory system and the history of new methods of transport such as the automobile and the introduction of leaded gas. The Earth Day history timeline also highlights the ecological disasters of pollution and the reasons that inspired Gaylord Nelson and Morton Hilbert to organize a large-scale demonstration on behalf of the environment which came to be known as "Earth Day".

Facts about Earth Day History
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Earth Day.

1800's: The history of Earth Day began with the mechanization of industry during the Industrialization in America that transformed the United States from an agricultural to an industrial society. The industrialization brought about about complex social and economic changes together with environmental degradation.

1800's: The latter part of the 1800's saw the introduction of the factory system and the heavy, dense smoke that belched from the factories that polluted the air.  New transportation systems such as the steam locomotive and steam boats enabled people to move to the cities. The gasoline powered automobile was invented by Karl Benz in 1886.

1800's: The opportunities to work in cities, rather than on farms, led to the rapid Urbanization of America. Poor sanitation for people, and horse waste left in the streets, led to pollution in the cities followed by deadly epidemics due to untreated waste and raw sewage.

1890 -1920: The exploitation and mis-management of natural resources during the Progressive era (1890 - 1920) gave rise to the Conservation Movement and the introduction of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks during the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt.

1890 -1920: Environmentalism played an important part within the Progressive Movement as concerns began to surface about man's interference to the natural habitat, the destruction of plants and trees, changes to natural water supplies and air pollution .

1890 -1920: The early environmentalists clashed with industry leaders believing that the natural world, including animals, birds, fish, plants, trees, water and air should be protected from destruction or pollution. The warnings of environmentalists were largely ignored and the natural resources of America were exploited by men who cared nothing for the environment or conservation, they were driven purely by profit.

1909: The 1900's witnessed the rise in the popularity of the automobile. Between  1909 - 1927 over 15 million Ford Model T vehicles rolled off the newly developed assembly lines and were sold to eager, car-crazy citizens.

1923: Automobile manufacturers introduced leaded gas (gasoline spiked with lead) to enhance engine performance of cars. Despite warnings that lead was a “serious menace to public health”  leaded gas was introduced to the market and car makers began to fight mandatory emissions control for their cars.

1945: World War Two was brought to a dramatic end as the world watched in horror at the power of the Atomic bomb and the deadly and devastating effects of nuclear explosions on people and the environment.

1945: Following World War Two the concept of ecology, which placed a higher value on esthetics and biology over efficiency and commerce, began to penetrate the public mind of Americans.

1948: The Donora smog was a thick cloud of air pollution formed above the industrial town of Donora, Pennsylvania killing 20 people and causing sickness in 6,000 of the town's 14,000 people. The Donora smog alerted the public to the deadly effects of air pollution and the dangers of ozone and urban smog.

1949: The first known dioxin exposure incident, in a Nitro, West Virginia herbicide production plant. Dioxin was extensively used by the US during the Vietnam War. It was known as Agent Orange.

1955: The  Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 was passed, first Federal legislation addressing air pollution, to provide federal research relating to air pollution control.

1960's: The Hippie Counterculture emerged in which young people rejected mainstream American life  that was dominated by materialism and consumerism, and turned to a freer lifestyle, living closer the nature - hence the term 'Flower Power'.

1961: The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an international organization for the conservation, research and restoration of the natural environment, was established in Switzerland.

1962: There was a resurgence of public interest in Environmentalism when a book called 'Silent Spring' was published by Rachel Carson.  'Silent Spring'  addressed the widespread and indiscriminate pesticide poisoning of man and nature and man resulting in a public outcry for direct government action.

1963: President Lyndon B. Johnson added the environment to his legislative programs and passed the Clean Air Act of 1963 to provide funding for the research and the cleanup of air pollution.

1967: The Air Quality Act of 1967 was an amendment to the Clean Air Act of 1963. The 1967 amendment put primary responsibility of addressing air quality in the hands of the state and local government, but not at national level

1968: Morton Hilbert, an environmentalist and professor of public health organized the Human Ecology Symposium, an environmental conference for students to learn from scientists about the effects of environmental degradation on the health of humans.

1969: The Cuyahoga River Fire disaster occurred in 1969 when the Cuyahoga River, in Cleveland Ohio polluted from decades of industrial waste and toxic garbage, caught fire

1969: The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill resulted in public outrage at the devastating environmental effects of the crude spill.

1969: The catastrophic Santa Barbara oil spill, together with the success of the "teach-ins" held by Vietnam War protestors on U.S. college campuses, inspired Senator Gaylord Nelson, Representative Pete McCloskey and Morton Hilbert, to organize a large-scale demonstration on behalf of the environment which came to be known as "Earth Day".

1970: The first "Earth Day" was held on April 22, 1970 as an environmental "teach-in" that "brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform."

1970: The massive public response to the first Earth Day put the environment on the political agenda and an extension to the Clean Air Act was made in 1970 aimed at phasing out leaded gas by the mid-1980s.

1970: The Clean Air Act of 1970 was designed to control air pollution on a national level, moving far more aggressively to regulate air quality at a pace acceptable to public demands. The Clean Air Act of 1970 established National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) to curb pollution.

1970: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was authorized via an executive order submitted to Congress on July 9, 1970 by President Nixon and the EPA was established on December 2, 1970.

1970: The Environmental advocacy group, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), was founded.

1970: Pollution and the Death of Man, an ecological and philosophical work by the American author Francis A. Schaeffer, was published in 1970

1971: Greenpeace is founded and begins campaigning against whaling , global warming and nuclear power

1972: Congress passes the Clean Water Act, limiting pollutants in rivers, lakes and streams. The  Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (also known as Ocean Dumping Act) is also passed.

1972: The first photograph of the whole illuminated Earth is taken from space by Apollo 17 and the world marvels at the famous "Blue Marble" photograph.

1973: Congress passes the Endangered Species Act to protect animals and their ecosystems.

1979: The Three Mile Island Accident on March 28, 1979 was a partial nuclear meltdown that resulted in the release of unknown amounts of radioactive gases and radioactive iodine into the environment.

1982: The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 was passed establishing a comprehensive national program for the safe, permanent disposal of highly radioactive wastes.

1989: The ecological disaster known as the Exxon Valdez oil spill occured on March 24, 1989 when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spilled 10.9 million gallons of crude oil in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The catastrophic oil spill resulting in the deaths of seabirds, fish, sea otters, harbor seals, eagles, and orca whales and led to the 1990 Oil Pollution Act.

1990: Amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990, during the presidency of George H Bush focused on reducing air pollutant emissions and the continuing concerns about air pollution.

1992: Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

1994: The first genetically modified food crop was released to the market and remains a strongly controversial environmental issue to the present day.

1995: 1995: Gaylord Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in honor of his environmental work.

1997: NASA’s Earth Observing System launched a series of artificial satellite missions and scientific instruments in Earth orbit designed for long-term global observations of the land surface, atmosphere, biosphere and oceans of the Earth.

2000: Approximately 180 countries participated in Earth Day 2000

2005: The founder of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson, died at the age of 89 on July 3, 2005.

2006: Former U.S. vice president Al Gore released 'An Inconvenient Truth', a documentary that described global warming and Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this and related efforts.

2014: The Elk River chemical spill occurred on January 9, 2014 from a Freedom Industries facility into the Elk River, Charleston, West Virginia.

2015: On June 18, 2015 Pope Francis issued an extraordinary environmental statement in Rome following his beliefs that there are significant ecological problems today and that pollution and climate change need to be addressed.

Present: Earth Day has become a worldwide holiday celebrated by over 1 billion people.

US American History
1990 - Present: The Modern Era
Facts about Earth Day

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