‘System Change, Not Climate Change’: Palo Alto Rallies On Earth Day

Although Earth Day has stretched over time and across the globe, its core purpose remains the same: Decades later, it continues to be about appreciating the planet and working together to effect change at all levels of government.
A group of people walking
Climate activists march through downtown Palo Alto on April 22, 2022. (Chasity Hale/The Peninsula Press)

On Jan. 28, 1969, an oil well in Santa Barbara, CA blew out, leaking millions of gallons of petroleum into the Pacific Ocean. This oil spill — the third-largest in the country and the largest in the state to date — turned the Central Coast’s usually clear water as dark and thick as blackstrap molasses.

The following year, on April 22, 1970, former California Rep. Pete McCloskey and former Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson helped mobilize student activists across the country. Some 20 million Americans responded to the oil spill through nationwide demonstrations. That was the first-ever Earth day.

A sign with the words “declare a climate emergency” was seen at an Earth Day event in downtown Palo Alto on April 22, 2022. (Chasity Hale/The Peninsula Press)

Fifty-two years later — on Friday, April 22, 2022 — Rep. Anna Eshoo from California’s 18th congressional district, next door to McCloskey’s old stomping grounds, recalled this history. At a climate march and rally, organized by the nonprofit 350 Silicon Valley’s Palo Alto Climate Team, Eshoo spoke to an audience of all ages.

“What [the history of Earth Day] says about the people of this region is that they have always had a conscience when it comes to our environment,” Eshoo said to the crowd gathered in front of Palo Alto City Hall.

Although Earth Day has stretched over time and across the globe, its core purpose remains the same: Decades later, it continues to be about appreciating the planet and working together to effect change at all levels of government.

Listen to the podcast to hear more about the history of Earth Day and how student activists and legislators in the Bay Area continue to confront climate change.

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