The first Earth Day is the most famous little-known event in modern American history. Because we still pay ritual homage to the planet every April 22, everyone knows something about Earth Day. Some people may also know that Earth Day 1970 made the environmental movement a major force in American political life. But no one has told the whole story before.
The story of the first Earth Day is inspiring: it had a power, a freshness, and a seriousness of purpose that are difficult to imagine today. Earth Day 1970 created an entire green generation. Thousands of Earth Day organizers and participants decided to devote their lives to the environmental cause. Earth Day 1970 helped to build a lasting eco-infrastructure—lobbying organizations, environmental beats at newspapers, environmental-studies programs, ecology sections in bookstores, community ecology centers.
In The Genius of Earth Day, the prizewinning historian Adam Rome offers a compelling account of the rise of the environmental movement. Drawing on his experience as a journalist as well as his expertise as a scholar, he explains why the first Earth Day was so powerful, bringing one of the greatest political events of the twentieth century to life.
Rome (The Bulldozer in the Countryside) digs deep into collections of articles and ephemera, and shows how Senator Gaylord Nelson's simple idea for a nationwide teach-in about the environment grew into "an educational experience as well as a political demonstration." Manifesting in the form of over 12,000 local events, the teach-in catalyzed a limited effort by disparate environmental groups into a powerful movement that engaged politicians, youth, the media, the educational system, and everyday people in an explosion of interest and activity around protecting the Earth. Working from the thesis that the lack of centralized agenda-setting for Earth Day allowed for a wide range of manifestations, Rome profiles several of the diverse individual organizers, events, and speakers involved in the first Earth Day. He then follows the impact of these events by citing the rise of lobbying organizations like the League of Conservation Voters, new legislation on environmental responsibility like the Clean Air Act, increasing media coverage of ecology, and the creation of a generation of environmental activists directly linked to Nelson's teach-in. This detailed history gives credit where credit is due, jumping off from the seminal event to chronicle the growing concern for industry accountability and the link between individual behavior and ecological health.