Earth Day

The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970, and was organized by Gaylord Nelson, US Senator from Wisconsin, to raise environmental awareness in the United States. By 1990, Earth Day went international with 200 million people participating in events in 141 countries.

Leading up to an Earth Day 1990 conference, the Smithsonian held a conference in September 1989 between media professionals and scientists to encourage new strategies in reporting critical environmental stories in the news. Covering the Environment: Front Page or Yesterday's News? is a thirty minute video based upon these discussions, which was only distributed to media professionals.

The chairmen for the discussion were Senators Timothy E. Wirth and John Heinz. Some of the participants included biologist and ecologist Paul R. Ehrlich, Stanford University; atmospheric chemist Susan Solomon, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; environmental biologist Stephen Schneider, National Center for Atmospheric Research; television journalist Lesley Stahl, CBS News; television journalist and correspondent Andrea Mitchell, NBC News; and executive editor Ben Bradlee, Washington Post.

Another participant was biologist and researcher Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University. In the clip below Wilson talks about the need for a "world survey of species" and "a complete biotics inventory." In 2007, the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) began with a mission to create an online species database, of which the Smithsonian is one of the five original cornerstone institutions. While a 2007 TED speech by Wilson served as a catalyst for the creation of the EOL, Wilson clearly had been thinking about the idea for awhile.

Lastly, Thomas E. Lovejoy, Assistant Secretary for External Affairs at the Smithsonian at the time (and also responsible for introducing the term "biological diversity" to the scientific community), gives us some final thoughts about the environment.

The Smithsonian continues its interest in the issues at the core of Earth Day. One of the four grand challenges in the Smithsonian’s current strategic plan is: "Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet," and to this end, the Smithsonian will work to "advance our knowledge and understanding of life on Earth, respond to the growing threat of environmental change, and sustain human well-being." Celebrate Earth Day 2012 with the Smithsonian, where several museums including the National Zoo and the National Museum of the American Indian, will be hosting events.

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