sealPurdue News

April 1997

Scientists paved the way for Earth Day

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- "Flower children" and "tree huggers" get a lot of the credit for starting our modern environmental movement. However, a Purdue University sociologist says scientists were promoting concern for the environment long before the first Earth Day in 1970.

"As early as 1961, scientists joined together in a call for increased research on environmental problems," says Harry Potter, associate professor of sociology. "Throughout the 1960s, a substantial number of scientists from several disciplines recognized the potential threats of air, water and land pollution."

Marine biologist Rachel Carson wrote the popular book "Silent Spring" in 1962 about the dangers of DDT and other pesticides and chemicals. "She was certainly not alone among the scientific ranks in expressing concerns about the environment, although her book has received more popular attention than the others," Potter says.

He also points to scientific reports throughout the 1960s such as "100 Problems in Environmental Health," published in 1961 and "Restoring the Quality of our Environment," a 1965 report from the Pollution Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee.

"Increasing public concern starting late in the 1960s may have been an intended outcome of these reports," Potter says. "There's actually limited evidence of public concern for the environment prior to April 22, 1970."

Potter says many sociologists consider the first Earth Day, with its broad demonstration of national concern for the environment, as the start of the environmental movement.

"Major environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club and National Audubon Society, can take some of the credit for raising public opinion on the matter," he says. "However, scientists should also be acknowledged for having the foresight to promote study and research of environmental problems, before they were popular concerns."

CONTACT: Potter, (765), 494-4712; e-mail:

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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