Earth Day poster

The thought of Earth Day brings to mind images of community members planting trees and children learning about the importance and value of the natural world. While this might be true today, few Americans realize that the first Earth Day was a much more dramatic national event. In the midst of the Vietnam War, college campuses across the country were ablaze with anti-war protests and teach-ins, or informal lectures and discussions.

Founding Father

Wisconsin Senator and lifelong environmentalist Gaylord Nelson saw an opportunity to redirect the highly vocal force of American academics and young adults to yet another national crisis –the severity of environmental degradation that people had come to accept as normal.

Realizing the true effectiveness of the teach-in format, Nelson advocated its application to the new environmental movement that was sweeping the nation thanks to Rachel Carson’s bestselling book Silent Spring. To ensure that the most student and faculty members could participate, Nelson carefully selected April 22, poised between spring break and final exams, to be the official Earth Day.

The first Earth Day in 1970 saw many different forms of protest. Events ranged from lectures and nature walks to more dramatic displays such as mock trials for big time polluters and ‘dump-ins’ where students collected litter and relocated it to the doorsteps of city halls and manufacturing facilities.

Earth Day banded together many independent groups that focused specific environmental issues into one major force working together to improve the world we live in.

Since its inception, Earth Day has been considered both a success and the birth of the modern environmental movement due to its huge impacts on American environmental politics.

Because of the efforts of many participating activists, the Environmental Protection Agency was established on December 2, 1970 and with it followed the passage of the Clean Water (1972), Clean Air (1973), Endangered Species (1973) Acts, and countless other environmental protection regulations.

In 1990, Earth Day went international, which led to the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and in 2000 the UN addressed global issues such as climate change and clean energy.

With the 50th anniversary fast approaching, Earth Day 2020 has big plans, starting with themed years leading up to the big day. Earth Day 2019 is focusing on protecting our species threatened by human impacts.

Get Involved

Do you want to help, but don’t know how? Here’s a few things everyone can do while going about their daily business. Take a walk around your neighborhood, place of work, or along one of Fort Belvoir’s trails and collect trash as you go. Cleaning up trash from our streets, lawns, and natural areas prevent these items from impacting wildlife and water quality. Wildlife will often eat pieces of plastic thinking that it is food. This plastic can make wildlife life sick and can ultimately cause their death. When it rains, litter is washed into rivers and eventually the Chesapeake Bay, causing even more environmental damage. By removing this trash from the landscape and disposing of it properly, we can reduce our impact on the environment.

Every year Fort Belvoir has hosted its own Earth Day celebrations. Children are encouraged to learn about the importance of a healthy environment and what they can do to help ensure it remains that way, while adults are reminded of how the small actions we take every day can result in huge impacts. Come join us this year at the Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge Education Center Tuesday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., to learn more about Fort Belvoir’s natural and cultural resources and how you can make a positive impact.