By Mary Mazzoni on Apr 15, 2012

PHOTOS: Earth Day Successes

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Photo: Flickr/Missoula Public Library

An estimated one in 10 Americans took part in the first Earth Day, observed across the country on April 22, 1970. Brainchild of Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the first national Earth Day unified a growing public concern about environmental crises.

Concerned citizens gathered for environmental teach-ins at more than 2,000 colleges. An additional 10,000 elementary and high schools and 1,000 communities took part in the festivities, adding up to a stunning 20 million people. The size of events ranged from small school assemblies to a 100,000-person “human traffic jam” on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

The environmental pomp and circumstance of the first Earth Day didn’t just attract attention; it also brought results. In that fall’s midterm election, voters booted out several officials with poor environmental records, and some call the 1970s the “Environmental Decade,” with more than 28 reforms passed – ranging from clean air and water to reducing public exposure to hazardous waste.

Of course, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to protecting our planet. But American stewardship and sustainability has grown leaps and bounds since Nelson and his grassroots activists gathered in April 1970. Here’s how far sustainability in America has come since the first Earth Day. And if you don’t believe us, we have the photos to prove it!

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