On Wednesday, April 22nd, the world will be celebrating Earth Day. This isn’t just any Earth Day, but the 50th anniversary of Earth Day’s beginning. The world and life as we know it has drastically changed in a short amount of time. At the forefront is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to mass shutdowns of businesses, the economy and even schools. This slower pace of life, however, can also be seen as an opportunity to appreciate our planet and the nature around us that we often take for granted. Read on for a brief history of Earth Day and its origin.
The first Earth Day
Earth Day officially began in 1970 after Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin had witnessed the horrifying damages caused by an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Nelson, having been inspired by the student anti-war movement, decided to harness that energy and attempt to integrate awareness about environmental protection into public awareness and, hopefully, onto the national political agenda. April 22nd was chosen as the date, as it fell conveniently between spring break and final exams. Backed by a conservative Republican Congressman, and with a Harvard University student serving as national coordinator, Nelson built a staff of 85 and promoted the event across the country.
Earth Day 1970 achieved what Nelson had set out to achieve and more. Bringing together Democrats and Republicans alike as well as people from all economic backgrounds and social status, it became clear that the health of the environment was an issue that everyone had in common. Ultimately, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air Act. Within three more years, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act had both been passed.
Earth Day around the world
Just before 1990, a group of environmental leaders reached out to Denis Hayes, also known as the Harvard student who was integral in organizing the first Earth Day and he agreed to organize a global campaign. 200 million people from over 140 countries around the world participated in these global efforts. This platform gave an enormous boost to recycling around the world and helped shape what became the UN Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro in 1992. President Bill Clinton, in turn, awarded Senator Nelson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role as Earth Day founder.
Earth Day 2000
Hayes agreed to lead a new campaign as the new millennium was approaching. This time, the focus was clean energy and the increasing concern regarding global warming. This particular Earth Day used the relatively new power of the Internet to organize activists from around the globe. 5000 environmental groups and a record 184 countries participated, reaching hundreds of millions of people.
Earth Day 2010
Earth Day 2010 carried elements similar to the original Earth Day in 1970. There were many challenges to overcome regarding cynicism of climate change deniers, skeptical politicians, a less enthusiastic public and a divided environmental community. Despite these challenges, Earth Day was reestablished as a major moment for global environmental action. 250,000 people gathered at the National Mall in Washington DC and a global tree planting initiative was introduced, which has since become The Canopy Project. Earth Day Network also launched A Billion Acts of Green®, which is to this day, the world’s largest environmental service project, and attracted 75,000 partners in 192 countries in the observation of Earth Day.
Earth Day today
Today, Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behaviour and provoke policy changes.
We, at Industrial Revolution, are excited to see the amazing changes and action plans brought about by this year’s Earth Day. We are living in a time of uncertainty and isolation in many ways. Earth Day, as a global initiative, celebration and network is an incredible way to feel connected at a time when we often feel alone.
Happy 50th Earth Day!