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Apr 22 2021 - 03:00 PM
Today In History: First Earth Day

Earth Day



On a Sunday afternoon stroll, I happened to cast my eyes to the East River, noting with curiosity the graceful arch of a dark creature and what looked like a fin. A large fish... maybe.... but when it surfaced again, and again, and again, in measured spots, heading north through cold, choppy water towards Long Island Sound, I was quite sure: a dolphin, and my first-ever sighting in the salt water tidal estuary leading from New York Bay. The highlight of my weekend, I watched eagerly from the promenade, noticing only two other people, their camera phones held high, poised to capture. This dolphin braved the waters, not deterred by a large barge or lesser ferry boat, unnoticed by the vast majority of joggers, dog-walkers, and others enjoying the fine weather -- leaving me to google for recent news. Earth Day was coming up soon, and what better time to appreciate such natural, yet surprising treasures, often so close to us! I remembered that dolphins are not always solitary creatures, and was excited to realize the possible extent of wildlife in and around our city, with thanks to all those who help clean and protect our waters and land. 


Some say it took a burning river to fuel environmental activism in a country already struggling with the Vietnam War. When the Cuyahoga River caught fire in June 1969, oily debris floating on the water had ignited from the sparks of a nearby train. This incident followed the 800-mile Santa Barbara oil spill of January 18, 1969 -- a spill that caused the death of approximately 10,000 sea birds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions, and was seen from a plane by Senator-conservationist Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. In response to these incidents, Nelson urged teach-ins at college campuses to spread greater educational awareness of the environment. But there was much more to be done. Embracing a wider mission and backed with support from Senator Nelson and many others, in came the young activist Denis Hays, first Earth Day organizer. A graduate of Harvard University, Hays helped put national environmental legislation on the agenda, prompting President Nixon to establish the Environmental Protection Agency. Earth Day came to be annual event that demonstrates action for environmental protection and has celebrated a number of themes over the years, giving voice to public consciousness.


The theme for Earth Day 2021 is "Restore Our Earth", focusing on ways to reduce our footprint on the environment and drive action for climate, science and education, people and communities, conservation and restoration, and plastic and pollution -- particularly through natural processes and green technologies. The virtual three-day program sponsored by Earth Day Network includes workshops, discussions, and special performances and concludes today, while Earth Day activities continue in schools, libraries, museums, and other places of learning, formal and informal, throughout the world.


The following articles are drawn from Proquest Historical Newspapers, which informs and inspires classroom teaching and learning.














Special News Slide - Earth Day


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  • Special News Slide, Courtesy of the Gottesman Libraries


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