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Reflections on the 50th anniversary

Today is Earth Day 2020.

The 50th time people have paused to mark the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement.

Earth Day 2020

The brainchild of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin), joined by Representative Paul “Pete” McCloskey (R-California), “The first Earth Day in 1970 mobilized millions of Americans for the protection of the planet. On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans — 10% of the U.S. population at the time — took to the street, college campuses, and hundreds of cities to protest environmental ignorance and demand a new way forward for our planet. The first Earth Day is credited with launching the modern environmental movement.”1

The results were spectacular:

“By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other first of their kind environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act. Two years later Congress passed the Clean Water Act. A year after that, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act and soon after the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. These laws have protected millions of men, women and children from disease and death and have protected hundreds of species from extinction.”2

The event was reprised in 1990, on a global basis, with as many as 200 million people in 141 countries participating. In 2000, 5,000 environmental groups in 184 countries took part. Participation was high in 2010 as well.3

And here we are, in 2020, with huge swaths of the world’s population confined to our homes, trying to stem the spread of a disease that most likely began in a wild animal that wouldn’t have had contact with people but for human actions in habitat destruction and more.4

For those of us who have lived through this cycle — and hope to live to see the 60th anniversary of Earth Day — today is a day of reflection. Considering how we got to where we are.

And for those of us who are genealogists — the historians of our families — it’s also a time to document how we’re doing, and what we’re feeling.

Just as we asked our parents and grandparents what they did in the shooting wars of the 20th century, generations from now, our descendants will want to know what we did in the environmental wars of the 21st century.

It’s our task to make sure our answers, and those of our families, are recorded and passed down.

And, if we haven’t done so already, today is as good a day as any to start that process.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Earth Day 2020,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 22 Apr 2020).


  1. Earth Day 50th Anniversary,” ( : accessed 22 Apr 2020).
  2. Ibid., “The History of Earth Day.”
  3. Ibid.
  4. See Nick Paton Walsh and Vasco Cotovio, “Bats are not to blame for coronavirus. Humans are,” CNN Health, posted 20 Mar 2020 ( : accessed 22 Apr 2020).
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