The History of Earth Day


via Flickr

As our planet battles climate change and other environmental hazards, “Earth Day Everyday” is more important to heed to.

In 1970, Earth, the most prized asset to humankind, became nationally recognized through its own holiday. April 22 became known as Earth Day, a day to embrace green living and confront the climate crisis. Although Earth Day became notable in 1970, the history of Earth Day and its making goes further back than one might expect. 


Pollution and its effects on the environment began to be uncovered in the early 1960s. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson raised awareness about dangerous pesticides, specifically in the American countryside, and became a bestseller in 1962. Several years later, in 1969, a fire ensued on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland due to chemical waste disposal. Though the problem was finally illuminated in the public spotlight, environmental causes were still not a priority to the national government. It was still legally acceptable for factories to dump pollutants into rivers and lakes during this time. By owning gas-guzzling cars, people were able to flaunt and give an indication of wealth. Despite the lack of acknowledgment of preserving the Earth’s natural resources, a small portion of the American population was educated on concepts such as industrialized pollution and recycling. 


In 1962, Wisconsin Democrat Senator Gaylord Nelson was elected to the United States Senate. His inceptive goal was to persuade the federal government that our planet’s livelihood was threatened by environmental destruction. After being inspired by anti-Vietnam War “teach-ins” on college campuses across the United States in 1969, Nelson created the idea of Earth Day. At the time, Nelson was regarded as one of the founding fathers of the contemporary environmental movement. He envisioned a ‘large-scale, grassroots environmental protest’ “to shake up the political elite and drive this problem onto the national agenda,” according to Nelson. In a 1969 Seattle conference, the notion of Earth Day was introduced and discussed as he encouraged the entire nation to put forth their involvement. Subsequently, activist and student president at Stanford University, Denis Hayes, was nominated as Earth Day’s national coordinator. Nelson went on to further emphasize the importance of involvement, saying, “Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.”


Marking the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, began with rallies in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City, Washington D.C., and many other American cities. These rallies and healthy discussions proved to be effective in spreading awareness about the elaborate environmental movement. The public attitude transformed drastically. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Public opinion polls indicate that a permanent change in national priorities followed Earth Day 1970. When polled in May 1971, 25 percent of the U.S. public declared protecting the environment to be an important goal, a 2,500 percent increase over 1969.”


Since 1970, commemorations of Earth Day have developed into environmentally friendly activities and organizations acting on several environmental issues. EDN revealed Earth Day to be “the largest secular civic event in the world”, with more than 1 billion people acting for the better of the world.