Earth Day Information Center

Earth Day Fact Sheet


The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970. Originally called "The First National Environmental Teach-in," Earth Day was modeled after the anti-Vietnam war teach-ins of the late 1960s. By some estimates, 20 million Americans participated in environmental rallies, demonstrations and other activities on that first Earth Day. Since then, many have sought to claim credit for founding Earth Day, including former Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), Environmental Action, Inc. and the 82-year-old co-founder of the Earth Society, John McConnell. Former Senator Nelson appears to have one of the strongest claims on Earth Day. Recalled Nelson in an October 1990 speech: "...[T]he idea for Earth Day occurred to me in late July 1969, while on a conservation speaking tour out West. At the time there was a great deal of turmoil on the college campuses over the Vietnam War. Protests, called anti-war teach-ins, were being widely held on campuses across the nation.. I read an article on the teach-ins, and it suddenly occurred to me, why not have a nationwide teach-in on the environment? That was the origin of Earth Day." Senator Nelson subsequently raised funds for Earth Day, prepared letters to the nation's governors and mayors explaining the project, and wrote an article for publication in campus newspapers. He even used his Senate staff to help coordinate activities.

Earth Day Reflections:

"...Parts of the environmental movement grew fat and arrogant. In the eyes of some, environmentalists became part of 'the establishment' that we once railed against... And much of the general public-- while retaining an abiding concern for environmental values -- began to feel alienated from the environmental movement... It is time for environmentalists to turn their attention away from the beltway, to re-connect with communities across the land. It is time for us to stop preaching at people and begin to listen to them." -Comments by Denis Hayes, Executive Director of Earth Day 1970 on the occasion of Earth Day's 25th Anniversary

The Rising Cost of Regulations Since the First Earth Day:

* The cost of environmental and risk regulations on the economy has risen from $80 billion per year in 1977 to an estimated $240 billion in 1997. Source: T.D. Hopkins, "Regulatory Costs in Profile," Center for the Study of American Business. Contact: 314/935-5662, Web:

* Expenditures of the Environmental Protection Agency, one of many federal agencies involved in environmental policy, have risen from $1.289 billion in fiscal year 1971 to $7 billion in fiscal year 1997. Meanwhile, the EPA's staff has grown from 5,500 to over 14,370 (excluding part-time employees). Source: EPA

* The Superfund site clean-up program alone has cost the treasury $22 billion, yet managed to result in the clean-up of just one-quarter of high priority hazardous waste sites. Further, Harvard economists Dale Jorgenson and Peter Wilcoxen have estimated that the costs of the program have reduced gross national product by 2.59% over a ten year period -- equal to $1,600 per year for every American household. Source: "New Environmentalism," National Center for Policy Analysis. Contact: Lynn Scarlett @310/391-2245, e-mail:, Web:

* Assuming economic output at current levels, limiting greenhouse gas levels to their 1990 levels by the year 2000 (as currently planned) will reduce U.S. Gross Domestic Product by $260 billion per year -- equal to $2,700 per household. Source: "The Unions vs. Environmentalists," Alexis deTocqueville Institution. Contact: John Shanahan @ 703/351-4969, e-mail:, Web:

Environmental Progress Since the First Earth Day:

* Air Quality: Sulfur dioxide (SO2) levels decreased by 50.3% from 1975 to 1993; Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels decreased by 32.7% from 1977 to 1993; ground-level ozone (smog) decreased by 18.5% from 1979 to 1993; particulate matter (soot) levels declined by 23.6% from 1975 to 1991; and lead levels decreased by 97.1% from 1975 to 1992. America's mega-cities have been among the beneficiaries of improved air quality. Between 1985 and 1994, the number of days Los Angeles exceeded federal smog standards declined by 36.3%, while the number of days Houston exceeded these standards declined by 54.7%. Source: "Index of Leading Environmental Indicators," Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy. Contact: Steve Hayward @ 703/299-8368 or 415/989-0833, e-mail:, Web:

* Wetlands: The United States went from a net loss of 290,000 acres of wetlands per year on average between 1974 and 1983 to a net gain 69,000 of wetlands in 1995. In 1995, 141,000 acres of wetlands were lost, but 210,000 acres were restored. Sources: "Swamped: How America Achieved No Net Loss," Competitive Enterprise Institute and The True State of the
Planet, Competitive Enterprise Institute. Contact: Jonathan Tolman @ 202/331-1010, e-mail:, Web:

* Pesticides: Pesticides today have shorter half-lives than the pesticides used in the 1960s and 1970s and thus pose less risks to people and animals. In the 1960s, half of all pesticides were chlorinated hydrocarbons such as Aldrin, Dieldrin and DDT, which are more persistent and tend to accumulate in animal tissue. Today, chlorinated hyrdrocarbons account for just 5% of all pesticides as they have been replaced by a new class of pesticides that are less persistent, effective in lower doses and have fewer negative environmental side effects. Pesticides have even had positive environmental consequences, reducing soil erosion and saving millions of acres of timberland, wilderness and other lands from the plow. Wrote Dr. Norman Borlaug, "Had our country tried to achieve the 1980 [food] production employing the yield and technology of 1940, it would have required the cultivation of an additional 437 million acres of land." Sources: "Index of Leading Environmental Indicators," Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy. Contact: Steve Hayward @ 703/299-8368 or 415/989-0833, e-mail:, Web: Eco-Sanity: A Common-Sense Guide to Environmentalism, The Heartland Institute. Contact: Joe Bast @ 847/202-3060; e-mail:, Web:

* Water Quality: Phosphorus, fecal coliform and dissolved oxygen levels in rivers and streams exceeding local standards declined between 1974 and 1990. 75% of America's streams and rivers, 82% of its lakes and 87% of its estuaries were considered safe for swimming in 1990. Source: "Index of Leading Environmental Indicators," Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy. Contact: Steve Hayward @ 703/299-8368 or 415/989-0833, e-mail:, Web:

* Forests: Each year, new forest growth exceeds harvest by close to 40%. Source: "Talking Points on the Economy -- Environmental Series," The National Center for Public Policy Research. Contact: David Ridenour @ (202) 507-6398, e-mail:, Web:

Environmental Myths:

* Myth: The temperature of the planet is rising. Fact: The government's own measurements find that the planet has actually cooled slightly -- by .037 degrees Celsius over the past 18 years.

* Myth: Loss of the earth's protective ozone layer will result in an increase in cancer deaths. Fact: Malignant melanoma, a deadly form of cancer, is linked to UV-A radiation which is not blocked by the ozone layer. UV-B rays are blocked by ozone, but have no impact on the incidence of melanoma.

* Myth: Higher government fuel economy standards will improve air quality. Fact: There is no link between air quality and fuel efficiency. According to a 1992 National Academy of Sciences report, "Fuel economy improvements will not directly affect vehicle emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and NOx..."

* Myth: Federal government regulation is the only means of ensuring environmental quality. Fact: In some instances, federal government regulation stands in the way of environmental progress. The Endangered Species Act is a good case in point. Under the law, private landowners can be barred from engaging in activities such as farming, ranching or home construction on their land if their property is identified as potential habitat for an endangered species. Since the government offers no compensation for either the revenue or property value losses that result, landowners have every incentive to make their land as inhospitable to wildlife as possible. This perverse incentive may explain why after 23 years on the books, the Endangered Species Act has failed to save a single species. The Superfund hazardous waste clean-up law is another good case in point. Because the law holds firms with the deepest pockets rather than firms responsible for waste liable for expensive clean-ups, the law sets the stage for endless litigation that diverts precious resources away from clean-ups. Source: "Talking Points
on the Economy -- Environmental Series," The National Center for Public Policy Research. Contact: David Ridenour @ (202) 507-6398, e-mail:, Web:

The Earth Day Information Center is a project of The National Center for Public Policy Research, 20 F Street, NW #700, Washington, D.C. 20001, Tel. (202) 507-6398, Fax: (301) 498-1301, e-mail:, Web: