Earth Day 1970 Was More than a Protest. It Built a Movement.Roundup
tags: environmental history, environmentalism, Environmental Movement, Protest
Adam Rome is a professor of environment and sustainability at the University at Buffalo. He is author of The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation.
Let’s be honest, hardly anyone is thinking about climate change right now, even though today is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day.
Three months ago was different. Climate change finally seemed to be becoming a must-address problem. The Democratic candidates for president competed to offer aggressive climate plans, and young activists brought renewed urgency to the issue. But then the coronavirus smothered the fire.
What should environmentalists do as the world focuses on a pandemic that is killing people, crashing the economy and upending daily life? Lay the foundation for a broader, deeper climate movement. This requires two things: engaging people who don’t see themselves as environmentalists and deepening the commitment of people who already recognize that climate change is a problem but who aren’t yet acting with any urgency.
In that effort, the first Earth Day can be a model. The 1970 event made protecting the environment a national priority. It involved millions of Americans in an unprecedented public debate about “the environmental crisis.” It empowered a generation of do-it-yourself activists who made change in almost every part of society for decades to follow. Though Earth Day 1970 can’t be repeated, its history offers important lessons about movement building.
Learning those lessons requires debunking a persistent misconception of Earth Day as just a mass demonstration designed to generate attention.
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