Friday is Earth Day, and because we do everything in big style around here, today kicks off Earth Week, five days of events and festivities to celebrate the planet on which we live and to consciously think about how we treat it.
We've been doing this Earth Day thing for 41 years now, ever since Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, proposed a nationwide environmental protest "to shake up the political establishment and force this issue onto the national agenda."
You have to remember that back in 1970, most people just threw their trash out the car window without a second thought. The streets were crazy littered, and this only seemed to bother a disrespected, radical group of tree-hugging, granola-crunching hippies.
But Nelson, who didn't like the direction things were headed, suggested a grass-roots movement. Naturally, college kids would be required for such a thing to gain momentum, and so rallies were organized on college campuses across the country where different groups of activists had already been involved in separate movements protesting oil spills, industrial pollution, toxic waste dumps and the shrinking of natural habitats. Why April 22nd? Because it wouldn't interfere with spring break or finals. But mainstream American considered it foolish kid stuff at the time, and hardly paid any attention when 20 million "radicals" took to the streets.
But when Presiden Richard Nixon -- yes, Nixon -- created the Environmental Protection Agency, the cause got some respect. Congress amended the Clean Air Act to set standards for national air quality, auto emissions and pollution controls, and a year later, the use of lead-based paint was restricted.
In 1972, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, and the EPA banned DDT, a cancer-causing pesticide. It wasn't until the '80s that Earth Day got widespread, mainstream attention. In 1990, Earth Day went global.
So, what's going on this week? Here's a great guide to Earth Day events on Long Island.