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Q&A | Earth Day

A Q&A on Earth Day

With this year's Earth Day coming Tuesday, the St. Petersburg Times takes a quick look at how it got started, what has changed and local events scheduled for this weekend.

What is Earth Day?

It's an event scheduled for April 22 intended as "a nationwide grass roots demonstration on behalf of the environment," according to founder Gaylord Nelson.

How did it get started?

Throughout the 1960s, public concern about the environment grew thanks to a series of pollution-related disasters, including a record-breaking fish kill on Lake Thonotosassa. So in September 1969, Nelson, then a senator from Wisconsin, announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide demonstration on behalf of the environment. "The response was electric," Nelson recalled years later. Organizers picked April 22 as a day near the end of the school term when students might be able to get out of class to join the demonstration.

Did it draw much public attention?

More than 2,000 colleges and universities and more than 10,000 high schools and grade schools took part. An estimated 20-million citizens participated — nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population at that time.

What impact did it have?

The first Earth Day "made it clear that we could summon the public support, the energy, and commitment to save our environment," said Nelson, who died in 2005. Congress responded with laws to protect the environment, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Has the Earth Day celebration changed over the years?

Nowhere near 20-million people will demonstrate this year. Earth Day is a highly commercialized endeavor, with cosmetics companies, office supply chains and television networks using it as an occasion to publicize how earth-friendly they are. For instance, Frito-Lay (a division of Pepsi) is using Earth Day this year to inaugurate a solar-powered factory in California that will produce SunChips. The organizers of this year's Earth Day planned daylong events on Sunday at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and seven other cities, including Miami — all sponsored by the financial services firm JPMorgan Chase.

Are there any local events?

Yes, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg running its annual open house on Saturday. It offers free tours of the state's marine laboratory, complete with touch tanks and other kid-friendly attractions. The Lowry Park Zoo is offering a "Party for the Planet" on Saturday, with regular admission.

How can I find out more about Earth Day?

Go to : ww2.earthday.net/.

Compiled by Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer.

A Q&A on Earth Day

04/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 10:38am]
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