Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970, a result of the efforts of Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-Wis.), a passionate advocate of protecting the environment and increasing awareness of environmental issues. While social activism was at peak levels in the late 1960s and early '70s, legislation on environmental issues was nearly nonexistent. Nelson struggled since he was elected to the Senate in 1962 to persuade Congress to establish an environmental agenda. Frustrated by the obstacles and resistance he faced, he appealed to the mood of the public and designated April 22 as a "national day for the environment." He hoped to impress upon fellow politicians that humans have an enormous impact on the environment. Nelson certainly achieved his goal. More than 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day celebration, prompting voter-hungry politicians to take notice. The overwhelming response helped generate a new political focus on the environment. As that focus has become increasingly global, more people than ever are celebrating Earth Day around the world.
In the past several years as countries all over the world have been mired in recession and affected by turmoil in the Middle East, Earth Day has taken on increased significance. Indeed, skyrocketing food, gas, and oil prices have impacted people rich and poor, businesses large and small. That's the bad news. The good news is that the spike in energy and food prices has increased awareness about the dangers of global warming and inspired people and corporations to conserve resources and "go green."
Many companies are doing their part by encouraging employees to use less paper and take public transportation to and from work, allowing some employees to telecommute, and using green materials and alternative heating systems when they rebuild or renovate. On the consumer side, sales of hybrid cars are up, while gas-guzzling SUVs are crowding used-car lots. A law passed in 2007 mandates use of the compact fluorescent lamp (CFL), and clotheslines are becoming as popular in backyards as swing sets. These measures not only save energy and the Earth, they also save money.