our Better Nature Home
Contact the author  

The goal of this site is to provide you with useful, clear and accurate information about conservation and environmental protection.

printer friendly page
- by E.A. Zimmerman

April 22, 2010 is the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day.  A lot has changed since then.  My husband played Little League alongside the Hockanum River in East Hartford back in the 1960s.  Fans in the stands had to hold their noses, due to the stink from raw sewage.  Doug said no one wanted to go after a foul ball that landed in the foul river.  

Oiled Bird, black sea, 2007. Wikimedia Commons photo
Thousands of birds died as a result of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill.  This bird was the victim of a 2007 oil spill in the Black Sea.

Decades ago, it was perfectly legal to dump tons of waste into rivers or holes in the ground, and to spew black clouds of toxins into the air.  Many polluting activities were basically unregulated.  There was no Environmental Protection Agency. 

Most underground storage tanks were made of bare steel.  Many were corroded, and their contents were leaking into the groundwater.  Lead paint and leaded gas were widely used.  On average, both cars and trucks got less than 15 miles per gallon.  The air was filled with smog.  A gray haze often hung over cities like Hartford.

When it came to chemicals, more was better.  “Better things for better living…through chemistry” had been DuPont’s motto since 1935.  DDT was a popular pesticide.  The book Silent Spring, which was published in 1962, bemoaned the detrimental effects of widespread pesticide use, especially on bird populations.  

Major fish kills were common.  However, in some areas, dischargers did not have to worry about chemical releases killing fish.  There weren’t any left.  Acid rain was also sterilizing entire lakes in the Adirondacks.  Barrels of radioactive waste were being dumped into the oceans. 

Massive oil spills left devastating ecological impacts in their wake.  In Santa Barbara, California, an offshore oil well blew in 1969.  An estimated three million gallons of crude created 800 square mile oil slick.  Corpses of dead seals, dolphins, fish and more than 3,600 oil-soaked seabirds littered 35 miles of formerly pristine coastline.  Fred L. Hartley, president of Union Oil Co., reportedly commented that, "I don't like to call it a disaster, because there has been no loss of human life.  I am amazed at the publicity for the loss of a few birds."  (Source:  Clark and Hemphill, 2002)

It is amazing how much society tolerated.  But some people like Senator Gaylord Nelson were becoming increasingly concerned.  Nelson was a lifelong conservationist, and loved the outdoors.  He recognized that in the 1960’s, the state of our environment was a non-issue when it came to the national agenda.

Senator Nelson wanted to put “E” into the political limelight.  “There is no domestic issue more important to America in the long run than the conservation and proper use of our natural resources, including fresh water, clean air, tillable soil, forests, wilderness, habitat for wildlife, minerals and recreational assets,” he wrote in a letter to President John F. Kennedy in 1963.   To give the issue more visibility, President Kennedy went on a five day, eleven-state conservation tour that same year.   The idea ultimately flowered into Earth Day.    

Nelson’s idea started as a grassroots protest, fashioned after the ant-Vietnam War demonstrations and “teach-ins” he witnessed on college campuses.  The goal was to draw attention to widespread environmental degradation.  An estimated twenty million people participated in Earth Day activities in 1970.  Today, Earth Day is celebrated in 174 countries by over a half billion people.  In next week’s article, read more about what has changed since that first Earth Day, and what has not.


References and More Information:


Originally published in the Villager newspapers on April 16, 2010


Fun kids games and activities
Fun Kids Games!

grief, illness, caregiver
Love, Loss & Gratitude

  Our Better Nature

HOME | Site Map | Contact | Contact webmaster about text link ad placement

If you experience problems with the website/find broken links/have suggestions/corrections, please contact me!
The purpose of this site is to share information with anyone interested in environmental protection.
Feel free to link to it, or to print hard copies for personal or educational purposes (see permissions) with a citation for the author. I have no responsibility or input on articles written by other authors.
No permission is granted for any commercial use or reproduction online.
Appearance of ads on this site does not constitute endorsement of any of those services or products!
If you are interested in placing text links or other ads on this site, contact the webmaster.
©2007 Chimalis. Original photographs are copyrighted, and may not be used without the permission of the photographer.
See disclaimer, necessitated by today's sadly litigious world.
Last updated October 25, 2016

HOME | Conservation | Open Space and the Outdoors | Pollution Prevention | Wildlife | Contact | Search