Earth Day History in Florida

Apr 21, 2022 No Comments by

by Monica Starr

April 2022 

An Ecology Florida Feature

Every year, April 22nd represents the start of the modern environmental movement. Since 1970, we have been celebrating the planet while providing a voice to the environmental concerns here in the United States. Today, there are almost 200 countries around the world that are engaged with celebrating Earth Day for over 50 years now [1]. This day is often recognized in schools all over the world which is a great way to get youth participation and awareness about environmental issues. Leading up to the first Earth Day in 1970, the United States was arguably oblivious to environmental concerns and how polluting an environment will threaten human health. After Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published in 1962, the environmental movement exploded and this book is still recognized as the catalyst for it all. In January 1969, there was a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin and a young activist named Denis Hayes organized campus teach-ins in this area to gain student participation [1] . Hayes continued to promote events across the United States with organizations, communities, faith groups and schools. The term “Earth Day” was said to have sparked a lot of media attention. This resulted in nearly 20 million Americans taking to the streets across the U.S. to demonstrate against the impacts of industrial development resulting in environmental and health concerns [1]. Today, Earth Day is said to be the largest secular observance in the world and it is celebrated by over a billion people annually [1].

One of the universities that has been participating since the beginning is the University of Florida which provides an interesting history of Earth Day here in Florida. Dr. Bill Seaman is the founding member of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Florida [3]. In 1969, Dr. Seaman and other UF students attended a conference in Virginia which included workshops and lectures regarding environmental topics [3]. One of the lectures was given by a prominent environmental figure named Senator Gaylord Nelson or the founder of Earth Day [3]. After being inspired by this conference and Senator Nelson’s lecture, these UF students founded the Environmental Action Group in November of 1969 [3]. This organization which reached 200+ members in the early 1970s continued to plan and host all Earth Day events on campus up until 2006 [3]. This participation from UF resulted in several of the biggest Earth Day events that “led the way in terms of having the biggest and maybe most engaging program in terms of the quality of speakers and the subjects covered” according to Seaman [3]. Today, the University of Florida supports dozens of student organizations that are closely related to environmental awareness, sustainability and conservation. 

In Tampa Bay, there are lots of environmental events during the week of Earth Day. For example, Ecofest 2022 is a community event put on by Learning Gate Community School, the city of Tampa and MOSI. This event is to celebrate businesses, organizations and community members in the Tampa Bay area that are dedicated to sustainability and the environment. This is a free event that will be held on Saturday, April 23rd at MOSI (4801 East Fowler Ave). There will be live music, demonstrations, informational booths, green living products, local vendors and more. For more information about this event, check out the Facebook page “Ecofest Earth Day Tampa Bay”. This is just one of the many Earth Day events in the area this year which shows how important environmental conservation and education is to the people of Florida. This Saturday at the New Port Richey Library, our own Dell deChant as the Environmental Committee Chair with Mayor Rob Marlowe will be available to discuss initiatives to create a better world. The attendees of this event will receive free seed packs for summer vegetables and milkweed for monarch butterflies. In addition to this event, Rob Marlowe and the City of New Port Richey has made their annual proclamation about Earth Day while urging all citizens to take an active interest in their environment in order to protect future generations. 

[1] https://www.earthday.org/history/

[2] https://www.epa.gov/history/epa-history-earth-day

[3] https://sustainable.ufl.edu/2020/04/07/history-of-earth-day-at-the-university-of-florida/#:~:text=It%20all%20started%20in%20the,and%20lectures%20regarding%20environmental%20topics.

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