Organizing the first Earth Day:
“Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.”
– Gaylord Nelson
Founder, Earth Day
“We honor Senator Nelson for his vision in calling for a National Environmental Teach-in in 1970. He empowered us to create Earth Day activities of our own making and design—in our case to create a wide-ranging and diverse Earth Week. Encouraging thousands of groups across America to implement their own visions of Earth Day was a stroke of genius. We just ran with it.”
– Edward W. Furia
Project Director, Earth Week 1970, Philadelphia
History of Earth Week
Motivated by national press coverage of a speech that U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson gave in the fall of 1969 in Seattle—in which he called for a national “environmental teach-in” to call attention to environmental issues—a group of University of Pennsylvania Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning students decided in early 1970 to organize not just an Earth Day, but an entire Earth Week of activities.
The group called themselves the Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia. Austan Librach, a regional planning student, assumed the role of Chairman. Realizing that the ambitious Earth Week program would require a full time director and not wishing to drop out of graduate school themselves to manage it, the Committee hired Edward W. Furia, who had just received his City Planning and Law Degrees from Penn, to be Project Director. Within a few weeks the core group from Penn was joined in 1970 by students from other area colleges, as well as from other community, church and business groups which, working together, organized scores of educational activities, scientific symposia and major mass media events in the Delaware Valley Region in and around Philadelphia.
This diverse Earth Week Committee of 33 members settled on a common objective—to raise public awareness of environmental problems and their potential solutions. They apparently succeeded—Earth Week 1970 is still remembered in Philadelphia as one of the most successful public activities, if not the most successful such activity, in the city’s history.
Earth Week in Philadelphia was noticed not just by the local and regional media of Philadelphia, Baltimore and Wilmingrton. It also attracted major national news coverage. Thanks to extensive national prime time network TV news coverage by CBS News with Walter Cronkite—much of which is excerpted here—the NBC Today Show with Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters, and live national TV overage on PBS, Earth Week in Philadelphia in 1970 succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its organizers.