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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Earth Days

Airs Monday, April 19, 2010 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Workers prepare for the first Earth Day at the headquarters of the Environmental Action Coalition in a New York Theological Seminary building (1970).

Photo Gallery: Earth Day Across America

On April 22, 1970, more than 20 million Americans gathered on college campuses and in city squares to celebrate the first Earth Day. Some came to spread the word, others came to learn, but all were a part of the largest organized demonstration in American history. View the photos.

"Earth Days" looks back to the dawn and development of the modern environmental movement -- from its post-war rumblings in the 1950s and the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's incendiary bestseller "Silent Spring," to the first wildly successful 1970 Earth Day celebration and the subsequent firestorm of political action.

The stories of the era's pioneers -- among them former Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall; biologist/"Population Bomb" author Paul Ehrlich; "Whole Earth Catalog" founder Stewart Brand; Apollo Nine astronaut Rusty Schweickart; and renewable energy pioneer Hunter Lovins -- are illustrated with an incredible array of footage from candy-colored Eisenhower-era tableau to classic tear-jerking 1970s anti-litterbug PSAs.

Stewart Brand, creator of the "Whole Earth Catalog."
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Above: Stewart Brand, creator of the "Whole Earth Catalog."

Directed by acclaimed documentarian Robert Stone ("Oswald's Ghost," "Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst"), this film is both a poetic meditation on man's complex relationship with nature and a history of the revolutionary achievements -- and missed opportunities -- of groundbreaking eco-activism.

Around age 12, Robert Stone created a short film on environmental pollution. Watch his first film.

Do you remember the first Earth Day in 1970? When did you first become aware of environmental issues in your community or in your life? Share your story.

Video

Trailer: American Experience: Earth Days

Above: "Earth Days" traces the development of the modern environmental movement from its post-war rumblings in the 1950s to the first wildly successful 1970 Earth Day celebration and the subsequent firestorm of political action to reveal an engaging history of the revolutionary achievements-—and missed opportunities-—of groundbreaking eco-activism.