The History of Earth Day
Earth Day started April 22nd 1970 in what the Earth Day organisation call the birth of the modern environmental movement. Leading up to the first Earth Day, America, along with many other countries, was producing vast amounts of pollution with little knowledge or consideration of its effects on the environment. In 1962, however, the publication of Rachel Carson’s bestseller Silent Spring raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and the inextricable links between pollution and public health.
Senator Gaylord Nelson had long been concerned about the deteriorating environment in the United States. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, Senator Nelson joined forces with Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, and Denis Hayes, a young activist, to organise a teach-in (informal lecture) on college campuses to the national media, on April 22 1970.
Recognising its potential, Hayes broadened the effort to include a wide range of organisations, faith groups and others. They named it Earth Day and inspired 20 million Americans (10% of the US population at the time) to take to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate against the impacts of 150 years of industrial development which had left a growing legacy of serious human health impacts.
In 1990, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Since then, with the powers of the internet and continually growing connectivity, Earth Day has spread across the world, facing ever increasing challenges from climate deniers, well-funded oil lobbyists, reticent politicians, a disinterested public, and a divided environmental community. In the face of these challenges, Earth Day prevailed and EARTHDAY.ORG re-established Earth Day as a major moment for global action for the environment.
Today, Earth Day engages more than 1 billion people every year and has become a major stepping stone along the pathway of engagement around the protection of the planet.
Why is Earth Day Important?
The importance of Earth Day can be marked through its historical wins. In 1970 Earth Day achieved a rare aggregation of different societal groups, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labour leaders. Moreover, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency as well as first of their kind environmental laws such as the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act. Two years on from 1970, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, then the Endangered Species Act a year later and soon after the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. These laws have protected millions of men, women and children from disease and death and have protected hundreds of species from extinction.
Once Earth Day went global in 1990, it boosted recycling efforts worldwide massively and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest honor given to civilians in the United States — for his role as Earth Day founder.
Today Earth Day is more important than ever. The fight for a clean environment continues with increasing urgency as the impacts of climate change become more apparent every day with rising sea levels, increasing temperatures and more frequent natural disasters such as forest fires and storms.
It is ever-more important to teach our population the truth about our changing climate, especially as polluting sectors, such as oil, attempt to deny global warming and greenwash the problem in their final attempts to keep their fossil-fuel burning activities profitable.
Moreover, the lack of urgency shown by governments only increases the need for citizens around the world to rise up in unity. Tapping into some of the learnings, outcomes, and legacy of the first Earth Day, EARTHDAY.ORG is building a cohesive, coordinated, diverse movement, one that goes to the very heart of what EARTHDAY.ORG and Earth Day are all about — empowering individuals with the information, the tools, the messaging and the communities needed to make an impact and drive change.
What Can You Do This Earth Day?
The theme of Earth Day this year is Restore Our Earth and they have three days of climate action planned which you can get involved in. On April 20th, 21st and 22nd they will be holding virtual summits, you can find out more about these and register for an event here.
Beyond this, you can join Earth Day as a member, donate to them or get involved in one of their ‘Acts of Green’ here.
Here at Go Eco, we encourage you to also get involved by completing one or more of our monthly challenges: