March 21, 2023

Celebrating Earth Day

While Earth Day feels like a regular holiday to celebrate today, it may surprise you that Earth Day has been around for only 52 years. What began as an idea from a Wisconsin senator is now an event celebrated by over one billion people and 190 countries annually. From its beginnings and connection to Wisconsin to BetterLife’s member involvement today, Earth Day continues to provide focus on protecting our environment.

Grassroots Beginnings

Before 1970, there were few environmental regulations for individuals and industries and no systems to protect our environment. After the industrial revolution of the early 20th century, air and water pollution became a commonplace element associated with industrial prosperity. Heavy smog was a common element of city skylines due to inefficient automobiles, and water pollution of American rivers was six times greater than at the start of the century. People were mostly unaware of the impact air and water pollution had on the population’s health and the environment. However, this blasé attitude towards pollution began to shift in the 1960s with the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. The book sold over 500,000 copies in 24 countries and highlighted the poisonous effects of pesticides, raising public awareness and concerns for the environment and the relationship between pollution and public health.

Wisconsin’s Environmentalist Connection

Wisconsin has long had a deep relationship with environmentalism. One of the environmental movement’s most notable figures, Aldo Leopold, formed many of his most impactful ideas while staying at his family cabin in Baraboo and served on the Wisconsin Conservation Commission in the 1940s. In fact, the very idea of Earth Day was born in Wisconsin. Senator Gaylord Nelson (who later became Governor of Wisconsin) had long been concerned with the state of the environment in the United States. He established a reputation as a leader in environmentalism by advocating for Wisconsin’s Outdoor Recreation Act which pledged $50 million towards environmental planning, land acquisition, and easements along state highways. His concern for the environment intensified further after a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, CA, in January 1969. Drawing inspiration from the anti-Vietnam war protests, he proposed a teach-in where students across the country would spend an entire day learning about the environment. After announcing his idea to the media, Nelson recruited Pete McCloskey, a fellow conservation-minded politician, to serve as his co-chair, and Denis Hayes, a young activist, to organize college teach-ins across the country. They looked for a day which fell between spring break and final exams for the most significant student participation potential and decided on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day. On that day across the county, 20 million Americans participated and demonstrated against industrial development’s impact on the country and its people.

By the end of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was formed, and environmental laws such as the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act were passed in response to Nelson’s efforts. In the following years, more laws were passed protecting the health of countless people and species.

Today, Earth Day is widely celebrated in Madison, across the world, and by our BetterLife members.

Highway cleanup crew pictured (L to R): BetterLife agent Steve Ernst; members Nancy Lentz, Zavon Dobson, Randy Riese, and Heather Dobson.

BetterLife Members Get Involved

Highway cleanups are a way many BetterLife members have helped protect our environment. Litter can be a hazard to local flora, fauna, and people enjoying outside spaces. BetterLife members in Denmark, WI, participated in a highway cleanup last October. BetterLife Members – Brodhead, WI, also organized a highway cleanup as part of the Adopt-A-Highway program.

Join Hands Day, an annual day when older and younger generations unite to volunteer, is another way BetterLife members have worked to improve the environment. BetterLife Members – Lincoln, NE, worked with other groups this past May to clean up the grounds of a local church and senior living facility. They planted flowers, cut back overgrown bushes, and pulled weeds.

BetterLife’s Home Office has also done work to help our environment as part of its annual Day of Caring event. Employees volunteered at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, helping to preserve native plants and clear walking trails of debris from fallen trees.

How YOU can get involved this Earth Day

There are many ways you can join in and help protect our environment this Earth Day. You can start small by picking up litter around your neighborhood or travel to a nearby park and pick up trash left behind from the winter season. You can also reach out to a local organization about volunteer opportunities. Connect with a nearby nature center or conservatory to see how you can help support their efforts by volunteering or donating. Or reach out to a clean water organization to find out how you can help keep local waterways clean. Interested in volunteering with a BetterLife member group? Find upcoming events on our event calendar

Finally, you can get involved this Earth Day simply by changing your habits at home. Shifts like using less water, buying less single-use plastic, buying fewer new clothes, and reusing more items can impact our Earth’s health. You can find more ways to get involved this year by visiting

How are you celebrating Earth Day this year? We want to know!  Send in your photos and stories for a chance to be featured on our social media, the BetterBuzz e-newsletter, or an upcoming issue of the BetterLife Magazine.