This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day, which began as a way for citizens to share their ideas about how we can better protect the planet. The idea was that if enough people voiced their concerns, environmental protection would become a priority for the government. Gaylord Nelson, a Democratic senator from Wisconsin, joined Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey to co-chair the first Earth Day celebration in 1970.
So what has changed from that day in 1970 to today in 2020? Read on for some important milestones:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States was created the same year as the first Earth Day. As people began demonstrating concern about pollution, the EPA was created to play a central role in how we protect the environment.
Amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1970 gave state authorities more control over air pollution from toxic gases and fumes. Further changes to the Clean Air Act meant that large companies are responsible for limiting the air pollution they cause, and newer guidelines still meant that states need to keep air pollution from six key chemicals to lower levels. Nice!
The Clean Water Act passed in 1972 and protects surface waters—including lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands—from pollution. The federal law protects these bodies of water from industrial waste. In 1998, the US was able to declare more than sixty percent of its water surfaces clean enough for swimming or fishing.
The Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973 to protect both endangered species and their habitats. Furthermore, it prevents fishing, harassment, or hunting of such animals across the nation. Did you know that today the Endangered Species Act protects more than a thousand species?
The Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976, but before then, all chemicals were considered safe. After the act passed, chemicals such as lead and mercury were more tightly regulated.
In 1971, Oregon passed the Bottle Bill, a law requiring beverage containers to be returnable (with a minimum five-cent deposit). A New Jersey city quickly followed suit, and soon a curbside recycling program was born, giving way to widespread recycling policies across the US.
Today in 2020, the push to better protect the environment only grows stronger as younger generations make their voices heard. What laws would you like to see pass if you started a movement for a better planet?