Texas Tech Expert Discusses Earth Day from 1970 to Today

Written by Audrey Rickel

Earth Day began April 22, 1970, as a grass roots movement throughout the United States as a response to strong and growing environmental concern, particularly among young people. Millions participated in the first Earth Day.

Mark Stoll, associate professor of environmental studies, remembers the first Earth Day as a ninth grader in Topeka, Kan.

“This was Topeka, so it really was grass roots,” Stoll said. “Everyone was talking about it, even junior high kids.”

The first Earth Day led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.

When Earth Day began, environmental issues were a bi-partisan issue; everyone was concerned about them, Stoll said, though currently, Congress seems to be going in the opposite direction.

“It would be good if Earth Day could remind us to keep moving forward and not get complacent,” Stoll said. “I don’t know if the current Congress is unaware, or if it’s the money and power of politics that is involved.”

Stoll suggested a need for the United States to return to putting the public good in front of private profit. The idea of doing good for the public rather than for private interest was very strong from the 1900s to 1980, and now there’s hardly any attention brought to the public good.

“People should be more aware,” Stoll said. “I find that my students are very unaware of environmental issues.”

Stoll said he thinks unawareness partially comes from the creation of government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, because people begin to think that the government will take responsibility for the issues.

“It’s good to keep these things at the forefront,” Stoll said. “I don’t know that Earth Day really makes headlines as much anymore, perhaps as it used to.”

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CONTACT: Mark Stoll, associate professor of environmental history, Texas Tech University, mark.stoll@ttu.edu, or (806) 742-3744.