Earth Day History


Those of us who were children or young adults in the 1960s may recall that cars ran on leaded gasoline, many large American cities had visible air pollution (smog), bottles weren’t returnable and littered our streets and highways, and there was no EPA. You may remember the song about pollution “when you walk into an American city, you may find that it is very pretty, but there’s one thing that you must be aware, don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air.” In the 60s the thought of touching Hudson River water was horrifying. We have certainly seen improvements in the past 50 years, and there is so much more to do. We hope you can find inspiration in the ongoing efforts around the world to help us be stewards of our Earth. Many of these efforts came out of the first Earth Day.


1970 saw the culmination of the realization that something must be done for the planet to counteract the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution. A Real Simple article by Alex Richards (https://www.realsimple.com/holidays-entertaining/earth-day-facts) explains the origin of Earth Day, inspired by Vietnam war protestors: Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson noticed that protest of the Vietnam War was widespread, but there was no pressure on government to deal with the environmental damage from contaminants coming from many sources. April 22, 1970 was chosen as the first Earth Day by Senator Gaylord and graduate student Denis Hayes. Hayes was then instrumental in helping Earth Day to become an international movement. In 2009 the United Nations named it International Mother Earth Day--we still call it Earth Day in the US. The Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970 by President Richard Nixon as a result of Earth Day movement. On Earth Day, people march, plant trees, hold community clean ups, and look at ways to reduce waste in their own homes. Richards reminds us that in 1990, the Earth Day focus was global mobilization of environmental issues with a strong focus on recycling. In 2000 the focus was global warming and clean energy, and 2010 included A Billion Acts of Green and a 250,000-person climate change rally in Washington, D.C. The theme for Earth Day 2020 was climate action.


Dosomething.org shares that on Earth Day 2012, more than 100,000 people rode bikes in China to reduce CO2 emissions and save fuel; 28 million trees were planted in Afghanistan in 2011 by the Earth Day Network; and in Panama, 100 endangered species of orchids were planted and maintained to prevent their extinction in honor of Earth Day.


Earthday.org is devoted to earth care. The site shares that the Biden Administration will convene a global climate summit on Earth Day 2021. Campaigns under earthday.org include The Canopy Project (TM), Food and Environment, The Great Global Cleanup (TM), Climate Literacy, and the citizen science campaign, Earth Challenge 2020. Please check these resources to learn more about specific actions people are taking worldwide to care for our Earth. You will be as inspired by efforts that continue to make a difference for the sustainability of our planet.


Submitted by the WPC Earth Care Team

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