In 2010, Earth Day, held every April 22, celebrates its 40th anniversary. Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisc.), considered one of the leaders of the modern environmental movement, developed the idea for Earth Day after being inspired by the anti-Vietnam-War "teach-ins" that were taking place on college campuses around the United States. Nelson said he envisioned a large-scale, grassroots environmental demonstration "to shake up the political establishment and force this issue onto the national agenda."
Nelson announced the Earth Day concept at a conference in Seattle in the fall of 1969 and invited the entire nation to get involved. Dennis Hayes, a young activist who had served as student president at Stanford University, was selected as Earth Day's national coordinator, and he worked with an army of student volunteers and several staff members from Nelson's Senate office to organize the project.
On April 22, 1970, rallies were held in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and "most other American cities," according to the Environmental Protection Agency. "In fact, 80 percent of all observances were urban affairs." In New York City, Mayor John Lindsay closed off a portion of Fifth Avenue to traffic for several hours and spoke at a Union Square rally with actors Paul Newman and Ali McGraw. In Washington, D.C., thousands of people listened to speeches and performances by singer Pete Seeger and others and Congress went into recess so its members could speak to their constituents at Earth Day events.
The first Earth Day was effective at raising awareness about environmental issues and affecting public attitudes. During the 1970s, several important pieces of environmental legislation were passed, among them the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Another key development was the establishment, in December 1970, of the Environmental Protection Agency, which was tasked with protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment—air, water and land.
To learn more about major environmental legislation currently before the U.S. Congress, search on “environmental protection” and “conservation” in THOMAS. It is also possible to search for a bill by its number or its name, including amendments and more on the aforementioned legislation from as far back as the 93rd Congress.
The Library's Science Reference Services Section develops Science Reference Guides, which are guides to Library resources and other links to information. The guide to Earth Day covers such topics as living and working sustainably, ecosystems and geography.
Also referenced in the guide are a number of American Memory collections including The Evolution of the Conservation Movement and Reclaiming the Everglades.