April 22 – Earth Day

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". . . on April 22, 1970, Earth Day was held, one of the most remarkable happenings in the history of democracy. . . " – American Heritage Magazine, October 1993

How the First Earth Day Came About
By Senator Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day

What was the purpose of Earth Day? How did it start? These are the questions I am most frequently asked.

Actually, the idea for Earth Day evolved over a period of seven years starting in 1962. For several years, it had been troubling me that the state of our environment was simply a non-issue in the politics of the country. Finally, in November 1962, an idea occurred to me that was, I thought, a virtual cinch to put the environment into the political "limelight" once and for all. The idea was to persuade President Kennedy to give visibility to this issue by going on a national conservation tour. I flew to Washington to discuss the proposal with Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who liked the idea. So did the President. The President began his five-day, eleven-state conservation tour in September 1963. For many reasons the tour did not succeed in putting the issue onto the national political agenda. However, it was the germ of the idea that ultimately flowered into Earth Day.

I continued to speak on environmental issues to a variety of audiences in some twenty-five states. All across the country, evidence of environmental degradation was appearing everywhere, and everyone noticed except the political establishment. The environmental issue simply was not to be found on the nation’s political agenda. The people were concerned, but the politicians were not.

After President Kennedy’s tour, I still hoped for some idea that would thrust the environment into the political mainstream. Six years would pass before the idea that became Earth Day occurred to me while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969. At the time, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called "teach-ins," had spread to college campuses all across the nation. Suddenly, the idea occurred to me – why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?

I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda. It was a big gamble, but worth a try.

At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air – and they did so with spectacular exuberance. For the next four months, two members of my Senate staff, Linda Billings and John Heritage, managed Earth Day affairs out of my Senate office.

Five months before Earth Day, on Sunday, November 30, 1969, The New York Times carried a lengthy article by Gladwin Hill reporting on the astonishing proliferation of environmental events:

"Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam…a national day of observance of environmental problems…is being planned for next spring…when a nationwide environmental ‘teach-in’…coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned…."

It was obvious that we were headed for a spectacular success on Earth Day. It was also obvious that grassroots activities had ballooned beyond the capacity of my U.S. Senate office staff to keep up with the telephone calls, paper work, inquiries, etc. In mid-January, three months before Earth Day, John Gardner, Founder of Common Cause, provided temporary space for a Washington, D.C. headquarters. I staffed the office with college students and selected Denis Hayes as coordinator of activities.

Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.



Earth Day is a time to celebrate gains we have made and create new visions to accelerate environmental progress. Earth Day is a time to unite around new actions. Earth Day and every day is a time to act to protect our planet.

Earthday.gov is a cooperative effort across the entire U.S. government.

"Commitment with accountability closes the gap between intention and results."
Sandra Gallagher, Co-Author of Thinking Into Results

Say “NO” to Plastic Bags

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Say "NO" to Plastic Bags

Data released by the United States Environmental Protection Agency shows that somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year.
– National Geographic News September 2, 2003

"Less than 1% of bags are recycled. It costs more to recycle a bag than to produce a new one."
– Christian Science Monitor newspaper

“There’s harsh economics behind bag recycling: It costs $4,000 to process and recycle 1 ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32.”
– Jared Blumenfeld, Director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment

So… where do the plastic bags go?

"Bags get blown around… to different parts of our lands… and to our seas, lakes and rivers. Bags find their way into the sea via drains and sewage pipes."
– CNN.com/Technology, November 16, 2007

"A study in 1975, showed oceangoing vessels together dumped 8 million pounds of plastic annually. The real reason that the world’s landfills weren’t overflowing with plastic was because most of it ended up in an ocean-fill."
– U.S. National Academy of Sciences

"Plastic bags have been found floating north of the Arctic Circle near Spitzbergen, and as far south as the Falkland Islands."
– British Antarctic Survey

"Plastic bags account for over 10 percent of the debris washed up on the U.S. coastline."
– National Marine Debris Monitoring Program

"Plastic bags photodegrade: Over time they break down into smaller, more toxic petro-polymers, which eventually contaminate soils and waterways. As a consequence microscopic particles can enter the food chain."
– CNN.com/Technology November 16, 2007 

"The effect on wildlife can be catastrophic. Birds become terminally entangled. Nearly 200 different species of sea life including whales, dolphins, seals and turtles die due to plastic bags. They die after ingesting plastic bags which they mistake for food."
– World Wildlife Fund Report 2005

If we use a CLOTH bag, we can save 6 bags a week!
That’s 24 bags a month!
That’s 288 bags a year!!
That’s 22,176 bags in an average life time!!!

If just 1 out of 5 people in our country did this we would save 1,330,560,000,000 bags over our life time.

Bangladesh has banned plastic bags.
– MSNBC.com March 8, 2007

China has banned free plastic bags.
– CNN.com/Asia January 9, 2008

Ireland took the lead in Europe, taxing plastic bags in 2002 and have now reduced plastic bag consumption by 90%.
– BBC News August 20, 2002

In 2005 Rwanda banned plastic bags.
– Associated Press

Israel, Canada, western India, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Taiwan, and Singapore  have also banned or are moving toward banning the plastic bag.
PlanetSave.com February 16, 2008

On March 27th 2007, San Francisco becomes first U.S. city to ban plastic bags. 
NPR.org (National Public Radio)

Oakland and Boston are considering a ban.
– The Boston Globe May 20, 2007

Plastic shopping bags are made from polyethylene: a thermoplastic made from oil.
– CNN.com/technology November 16, 2007

Reducing plastic bags will decrease foreign oil dependency.

China will save 37 million barrels of oil each year due to their ban of free plastic bags.
– CNN.com/Asia January 9, 2008

It is possible…

Do something DRASTIC – stop using PLASTIC!

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