PHOTOS: Earth Day Successes

Increased awareness

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A group of Cub Scouts from Harvey Scott Grade School in Portland clean up beach litter at Sauvie Island on the Columbia River in 1973. Photo: Flickr/The U.S. National Archives

Stunning headlines in 1969 drew public attention to the environmental state of emergency in America, including a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara and Ohio's infamous Cuyahoga River fire.

Meanwhile, mounting fears about smog, pesticides and water pollution swept the nation. By 1970, the percentage of citizens who cited cleaning up air and water as one of their top three political priorities rose to 53 percent, up from 17 percent five years earlier.

As a result of environmentally-related unrest, an estimated 20 million people took part in the first Earth Day, drawing attention from both the media and the federal government. After the big day, litter cleanup programs and environmental seminars sprang up across the nation, particularly at high schools, colleges, youth groups and religious institutions.

As environmental issues came closer to the forefront, public discourse about stewardship increased both on and off Capitol Hill.

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Volunteers and Port of San Diego employees strike a pose at a beach cleanup on Earth Day 2009. Photo: Flickr/Port of San Diego

Since 1970, Earth Day has grown into a global celebration. An estimated 1 billion people in 180 countries participated in Earth Day in 2010, with events ranging from park and beach cleanups in the U.S. to tree-plantings in Indonesia.

With the eco movement rapidly becoming part of the mainstream, a whopping 77 percent of Americans now say they worry about protecting the environment a great deal or a fair amount, according to a survey conducted by ecoAmerica.

Some data shows that Earth Day participation is down the U.S., but in many cases, Americans are simply participating in a different way. Web-based campaigns, such as EPA's Earth Day photo projects and Earth Day Network's A Billion Acts of Green, are steadily growing in popularity. On Earth Day 2010, an estimated 30 million people used social media to encourage green activities.

So, whether you attend a local festival, relax in the great outdoors or head online for some Earth Day tips, make sure to mark the occasion this year and keep the tradition alive!

Mary Mazzoni

Based in the Phoenix metro area, Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.