Earth Day is an annual event celebrated around the world on April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protection. First celebrated in 1970, it now includes events coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network in more than 193 countries.
On January 28, 1969, a well drilled by Union Oil Platform A off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew out. More than three million gallons of oil spewed, killing over 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. As a reaction to this disaster, activists were mobilized to create environmental regulation, environmental education, and Earth Day. Among the proponents of Earth Day were the people in the front lines of fighting this disaster, Selma Rubin, Marc McGinnes, and Bud Bottoms, founder of Get Oil Out. Denis Hayes, organizer of Earth Day observance day, said that Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin was inspired to create Earth Day upon seeing Santa Barbara Channel 800 square-mile oil slick from an airplane.
On the first anniversary of the oil blowout, January 28, 1970, Environmental Rights Day was celebrated, where the Declaration of Environmental Rights was read. It had been written by Rod Nash during a boat trip across the Santa Barbara Channel while carrying a copy of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. The organizers of Environmental Rights Day, led by Marc McGinnes, had been working closely over a period of several months with Congressman Pete McCloskey (R-CA) to consult on the creation of the National Environmental Policy Act, the first of many new environmental protection laws sparked by the national outcry about the blowout/oil spill and on the Declaration of Environmental Rights. Both McCloskey (Earth Day co-chair with Senator Gaylord Nelson) and Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes, along with Senator Alan Cranston, Paul Ehrlich, David Brower and other prominent leaders, endorsed the Declaration and spoke about it at the Environmental Rights Day conference. According to Francis Sarguis, “the conference was sort of like the baptism for the movement.” According to Hayes, this was the first giant crowd he spoke to that “felt passionately, I mean really passionately, about environmental issues.” Hayes also thought the conference might be the beginning of a real movement. Nash, Garrett Hardin, McGinnes and others went on to develop the first undergraduate Environmental Studies program of its kind at the University of California at Santa Barbara.