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Earth Day: Why do we celebrate and how you can help

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USF chapter.

The Origins of Earth Day

In the early 1900s, the general public was unaware of the effects their lifestyles that relied on fossil fuels and cars were harming the Earth. In 1962 Rachel Carlson published Silent Spring, which quickly became a New York Times best seller. It sold half a million copies in 24 countries, and helped to spread awareness about the negative effects that humans were having on the Earth and how these would negatively affect public health. 

Junior Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, was the first to propose Earth Day. He had already been concerned for the state of the environment, but the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California helped spur him to action. At the time, this was the largest oil spill to occur in American waters. Senator Nelson wanted to piggyback on the anti-war movement, and began to host teach-ins at American universities to help spread awareness about this problem to students. Senator Nelson recruited help from Denis Hayes, an activist, to facilitate the teach in. They settled on April 22 as it was in between spring break and finals, and would allow the most students to attend. 

Hayes created a team of 85 which included environmental organizations, faith organizations, and others to help run the event. They changed the name of the event to Earth Day which helped them garner national media attention. In 1970, the first Earth Day, 20 million Americans (10% of the US population at the time) took to the streets in order to celebrate Earth and protest the harm that humanity has caused in the first 150 years of the industrial revolution. 

Earth Day Throughout the Years

The first Earth day was an example of bipartisanship, as individuals from all walks of life and political parties came together for a cause that was bigger than themselves. To this day, Earth Day 1970 is the largest secular protest in the world.

 In 1980 the White house hosted an Earth Day event, this marked a decade of positive strides for environmental policy. This period included the passing of The  Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Superfund, Toxics Substances Control Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and of course the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. It also marked the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the banning of DDT and of lead in gasoline. 

In 1990 Denis Hayes helped to organize Earth Day initiatives globally, with 200 million people across 141 countries; it helped pave the way for the Rio De Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. President Clinton awarded Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts towards founding Earth Day.

In 2016 the United Nations signed the Paris Agreement on Earth Day. It was the most significant climate legislation and was successfully passed with 175 signatures. 

2020 was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic many of the activities were moved online. Over 1 billion people participated, marking this event as one of the largest online mobilizations in history.  

How You Can Help!

This year’s theme is Planet vs. Plastic, and the goal is to reduce 60% of plastic use world wide.

  1. Sign the Global Plastics Treaty to show your support for a plastic pollution  Earth 
  2. Florida currently has no mandate or curriculum to teach students about Climate Change, you can help by sending emails to Florida Commissioner of Education: Manny Diaz Jr. (Commissioner@fldoe.org). To make things even easier, you can use the email template provided by EarthDay.org. 
  3. If you are a USF Student, please sign the petition to reinstate the USF Tampa Campus office of sustainability. 
  4. You can donate to EarthDay.org, your donation will go to help them with their organization, advocacy, and initiatives. 
  5. You can participate in The Florida Learning Garden Clean Up, hosted by Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, which takes place on Earth Day.
  6. You can participate in The Florida Aquarium clean up on Ballast Point, also taking place on Earth Day. 
  7. Join A USF Environmental Club:
    1. Gen Cleo
    2. Student Environmental Association (SEA)
    3. 3D HAB-LAB
    4. Agrarian Club
    5. Marine Biology Club
    6. Students Protecting the Environment through Knowledge (SPEAK)
    7. Entomology Society
    8. Student Geography Association
    9. Geology Club
    10. Illusion Thrift 
    11. Friends of the USF Botanical Gardens Club 
    12. Botany Club
    13. Global Leaders Outreach for a Better Environment (GLOBE)
    14. Florida PIRG at USF 
    15. Judy Genshaft Honors College Gardens 
Carolina Gutfreund is a second year honors student double majoring in English with a Creative Writing concentration and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences with a dual concentration in Environmental Science and Policy and Social Relations and Policy. She is a climate advocate and the Treasurer of the Botanical Gardens Club at USF. She plans to work for the EPA when she is older. She has been published by the USF honors college, Thread magazine, and the Library of Congress.