The History of Earth Day

Updated: Apr 29

Earth Day has come and gone, Arbor Day is quickly approaching and Waterways Cleanup month is coming to a close, these events beg the question of how they began. April 22nd is the day that we as a global community observe and celebrate Earth Day. It is an event that spawned a global movement on celebration and awareness about our impact on the planet.

Lately, when we talk about the state of our environment, we tend to focus on the doom and gloom. With global warming, our ocean's aquatic life facing devastation, deforestation, and earth's wildlife and biodiversity shrinking, it is hard to find the good news of progress being made.

The observance of Earth Day has lead to new fields of study, the establishments of new non-profits, community cleanups and restorative actions.


It is hard to imagine that only 60 years ago, smoke-stacks and black clouds of smog were common place in cities and towns. The pollution of air wasn't just common place but it was accepted. It was what people believed to be a sign of prosperity, economic growth and societal progress. We held the idea that technological achievements increased the quality of life for every individual. And we celebrated it.

In some ways, we're completely wrong and we're not that different today than we were then. In 1962, Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, took the public by storm and the core message remains true. The book documents the adverse environmental effects caused by the indiscriminate use of pesticides. For the first time, it brought environmental concerns to the American public leading to a reversal in the U.S. national pesticide policy, spurred the nationwide ban on DDT and helped to inspire the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But how did this start the global movement of Earth Day?

Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin saw the public's rising environmental concerns and took action. He brought on Denis Hayes to lead campus teach-ins on April 22nd (the day fell between Spring Break and University finals guaranteeing maximum student involvement). Hayes assembled a small team to organize events across the country. After naming the date Earth Day, national news outlets brought the day to the public's attention. This resulted in the collective efforts of 20 million Americans. It united private environmentally-focused groups. Ones who gathered in their communities to demonstrate against a deteriorating environment.

The Effects of Earth Day

Soon after the first Earth Day, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Environmental Education Act, Clean Air and the Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act were put into place. And so began a long legacy where people became more conscious of their environmental footprint and taking action to preserve our natural world.

The influence of this event led to the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit where global leaders convened to discuss solutions for global warming. Just five years ago, 195 nations signed the Paris Agreement on Earth Day. The international accord signified that world leaders had committed to address the negative impacts of climate change. It attested to how they would work to drastically cut the carbon emissions their countries produce.

Today it's estimated that more than a billion people on the planet take part in Earth Day events each year!

Earth Day 2021

51 years later, Earth Day 2021 took on a different importance. With global vaccine efforts underway to end the spread of COVID-19, we experienced the day of observance with more shared personal experience than ever before by the impact of this pandemic.

More than the pandemic, the Australian wildfires from January of 2020, the Colorado wildfires and the numerous ones in California and the Pacific Northwest have plagued our planet. Scientists theorized that the Amazon rainforest, known as the earth's lung", could be emitting more greenhouse gases than it absorbs. Our best natural defense against climate change is in more danger than it ever has been before.

This means there is no time like the present to celebrate Earth Day as well as make steps to change your daily lives make Earth Day everyday. Whether you start a backyard garden with your family, make a commitment to recycling you plastics, or find an opportunity to clean up with us, Earth Day is a day to appreciate the home we all share and reconnect with nature!

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