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Penrose Library Blog

Earth Day

Earth Day was first observed on April 22, 1970. U.S. Senator from Wisconsin Gaylord Nelson had begun to organize a nationwide teach-in and day for environmental action the previous September. Although there was an organizational infrastructure, events were not planned centrally, so each of the over 12,000 events nationwide owed its existence to local planners and participants. In his 2013 book The Genius of Earth Day, Adam Rome argues that Earth Day “built a lasting eco-infrastructure: national and state lobbying organizations, environmental-studies programs, environmental beats at newspapers, eco sections in bookstores, community ecology centers” (x-xi). Read more about the history of Earth Day and explore the Gaylord Nelson Collection, housed in the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives.

Adam Rome describes a number of Earth Day 1970 celebrations around the United States, which prompted the question: What was happening in Walla Walla on Earth Day in 1970? In addition to a number of Associated Press articles on Earth Day observances regionally and nationwide, local coverage of Earth Day in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin began on April 19 and continued through the week. On Earth Day, some 400 students and faculty at Walla Walla and DeSales high schools arrived at school by bike, skate board, roller skates, by foot, or on horses (!) rather than by car (UB April 22, 1970, p. 1). Speakers at Wa-Hi included representatives from the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Washington State Game Department, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as a public relations department representative from the lumber company Boise Cascade, who talked about the actions of corporations to decrease pollution. Films related to ecology and environmental issues were shown throughout the day, and students collected litter (UB April 22, 1970, p. 1). Walla Walla College (now Walla Walla University) planned a full day of assemblies and seminars both for its students and the general public. These included a panel discussion on pesticide use, and seminars on air and water pollution; food-world need; sociological implications of technology; and environmental problems and politics (UB April 19, 1970, p. 10). At Whitman, a “plant-in” (where students could plant trees and other plants) was scheduled for the 22nd by the student ecology group, and students distributed environmental literature in the Student Union Building, but there was no formal program (UB April 21, 1970, p. 7; April 22, 1970, p. 1). The Whitman Pioneer called on students to establish their own priorities in response to the environmental crisis.

An editorial in the Union-Bulletin on April 23 looked back at the “abundance of whoop-la” and judged that Earth Day might have a “constructive effect.” “Pollution wasn’t built in a day, and it won’t be remedied in a year. Heaven knows the environment needs some concentrated attention. It calls for joint and judicious concern by government, industry and the public, not for injudicious and emotional flailing at ‘the system’” (UB April 23, 1970, p 4).

The theme of Earth Day 2017 is Environmental and Climate Literacy. This year the March for Science takes place on Earth Day.