On April 22, 1970, some 20 million people took part in the first Earth Day in America. Today, the event has spread across the world and is celebrated by more than one billion people.
The January 28, 1969, the Santa Barbara oil spill released over three million gallons of oil near the California coast, killing more than 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. Environmental activists began calling for increased regulation and education, and an Earth Day to call attention to such issues.
On the one year anniversary of the oil spill, activists held Environmental Rights Day. They composed the Declaration of Environmental Rights and worked with concerned politicians on the National Environmental Policy Act.
Among these politicians was Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. Nelson had witnessed the effects of the Santa Barbara oil spill and wanted to do something to prevent future horrors. At the time, American schools were a hotbed for anti-war protests. He believed that if he could harness that same enthusiasm for the rising interest in air and water pollution, he could make environmental protection a part of the national political agenda