How Earth Day began and why it still matters, in seven minutes

By John Mecklin | April 22, 2020

I live in Santa Barbara, where a 1969 offshore oil rig blowout served as one of the catalytic events for the creation of Earth Day. I can still see stains from that vast oil spill on rocks up and down the beaches near my home, so I don’t need much reminding that Earth Day remains relevant, 50 years after it began. If you do need a quick recap of that relevance, this short film by the Outrider Foundation is a pretty good Wayback Machine for reliving the founding ethos of the Earth Day movement, as explained by Tia Nelson, managing director, climate, at Outrider and daughter of Gaylord Nelson, a former US senator from Wisconsin who was a driving force in the creation of Earth Day. The film also offers a current-day perspective on Earth Day via Varshini Prakash, a cofounder of the Sunrise Movement, a youth group focused on climate change.

Nelson and Prakash seem to share a dedication to bipartisanship that has been largely lost in recent decades of US environmentalism. Younger readers who find it hard to believe such a bipartisan approach to environmental concerns is possible might pause this film at the 3:09 mark and ponder a remarkable image: a Republican president, Richard Nixon, in the act of creating the US Environmental Protection Agency.


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