Notre Dame study looks at the lasting effects of the first Earth Day

April 14, 2020

Researchers from the University of Notre Dame found that the first Earth Day celebration in 1970 had lasting effects on the people who celebrated it.

In a study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, economics professor Daniel Hungerman and graduate student Vivek Moorthy investigated how the event and the day’s weather affected people’s attitudes toward conservation and their health years later.

The researchers found that people who were under 20 years old on the original Earth Day expressed greater support for environmental spending up to two decades after the event.

“Our results are significant as they contrast with the conventional depiction of Earth Day having quickly dissipating effects on attitudes,” said Hungerman. “We show that purely voluntary environmental action can lead to important improvements in health and well-being years and even decades later.”

The two also found that weather during Earth Day events was related to how people felt about environmental spending, which had an effect on air pollution later.

Good weather on Earth is associated with lower levels of air pollution, specifically carbon monoxide, years later.

An increase in rain during Earth Day celebrations leads to higher carbon monoxide levels that slightly increased the presence of congenital abnormalities like Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis in babies up to two decades after the original Earth Day.

“Organizers of major demonstrations know that their crowds will be much larger if the weather is good, but Hungerman and Moorthy have tracked that impact on policy and attitudes 10 and even 20 years into the future,” said Denis Hayes, national coordinator of the first Earth Day in 1970. “This unprecedented research demonstrates the large effects that random chance can have on efforts to shirt public policies. So organize brilliantly and tirelessly – but also pray for sun!”

Hungerman said the researchers would like to apply their approach to other large-scale voluntary events in the future.

Notre Dame study looks at the lasting effects of the first Earth Day