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50 years of Earth Days: A persepctive

"The Blue Marble" is a famous photograph of the Earth taken on December 7, 1972 by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft en route to the Moon at a distance of about 29,000 kilometers (18,000 statute miles).
"The Blue Marble" is a famous photograph of the Earth taken on December 7, 1972 by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft en route to the Moon at a distance of about 29,000 kilometers (18,000 statute miles). (NASA)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The first Earth Day celebrations on April 22, 1970, took place at 2,000 colleges and universities, roughly 10,000 primary and secondary schools and hundreds of communities across the United States. More importantly, it “brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform," according to Jack Lewis, author of “The Birth of EPA.”

Earth Day 1970 organizer Denis Hayes said Earth Day has grown into “the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year.”

Fifty years later, thousands will not gather for rallies, education events or concerts. Not because fewer people care about the Earth but because a pandemic has swept the planet that proves that as far as mankind has come, we are not the masters of our environment.

Ironically, because millions of people are huddled in their homes, the Earth is getting a break. The air has cleaned up, albeit temporarily, in many heavily populated areas.

“It is giving us this quite extraordinary insight into just how much of a mess we humans are making of our beautiful planet,” says conservation scientist Stuart Pimm of Duke University. “This is giving us an opportunity to magically see how much better it can be.”

Considering the novel coronavirus and the need to remain in our cocoons to protect our personal health and that of others, the Earth Day Network has shifted to “global digital mobilizations.”

It’ll be the first Digital Earth Day. We have much more online about how that will happen.

In the beginning...

I am old enough to remember that first Earth Day. When I got to college and beyond, I became part of a second wave of community members that keep the annual event going. For several years in the late 70s, we held annual celebrations. Those were good times and the people in that small team that kept the event alive in Jacksonville are still my friends.

Photos of Earth Day celebrations at Brunett Park in Mandarin in 1975 and the University of North Florida in 1976 and 1977.
Photos of Earth Day celebrations at Brunett Park in Mandarin in 1975 and the University of North Florida in 1976 and 1977. (Photos by Steve Patrick)

If you were at one of those events way back then or have other memories of Earth Days gone by wherever you were, please share in our comments below or, in this strange time when we need to stay physically apart, connect with friends you might have made at one of those celebrations and share some memories.

And, if you can, get outside — while keeping an appropriate distance from others, of course — and enjoy our environment. Wednesday will be a beautiful day for it.


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