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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Earth Day Almanac

Air Date: Week of

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CURWOOD: Earth Day 2001 looks and feels a lot different than it did on the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Earth Day is the brainchild of Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin who in 1969 came up with the idea of a global rally for the environment. At the end of the 60s, in the wake of the Civil Rights and the antiwar movements, the first Earth Day made the environment the new activist poster child. More than 20 million people rallied for Earth Day's debut. They clogged midtown Manhattan, some waving signs, others waving dead fish and nets, yelling, "This could be you!" Iowa University students formed human barricades to keep cars off campus. Citizens in Harrison County, West Virginia, collected five tons of garbage from the highways and deposited them on the steps of the county courthouse. Even Congress shut down at Senator Nelson's request, so those politicians could promote the environment, even though many of them had to borrow speeches already prepared by Senator Nelson before taking the podium.

This year, Earth Day is expected to draw hundreds of millions of people from more than 180 countries worldwide. Yes, there will be some protests and some arrests. But the anger and passion that sparked yesterday's campus barricades and courthouse garbage dumps has largely been replaced today by outdoor festivals, bike parades, rock concerts, and tree plantings. Denis Hayes was a Harvard student in 1970, and was instrumental in organizing the first Earth Day. And in a way, he predicted how it might evolve. Speaking to throngs of demonstrators surrounding the Washington Monument, Denis Hayes kicked off that first Earth Day with these words: "If the environment is a fad, it's going to be our last fad." And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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