Earth Day

Earth Day is observed on April 22 every year. What makes this day so special is that it didn’t originate from any government or international organization but rather from a grassroots movement. Over time, it has become a global event with over a billion people participating, making it one of the largest civic observances in the world.

In the decades leading up to the first Earth Day in 1970, Americans were consuming vast amounts of leaded gas through massive and inefficient automobiles. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of the consequences from either the law or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. Until this point, mainstream America remained largely oblivious to environmental concerns and how a polluted environment threatens human health.

However, the stage was set for change with the publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962. The book represented a watershed moment, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries as it raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment, and the inextricable links between pollution and public health.

Earth Day Started by Students

Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin had long been concerned about the deteriorating environment in the United States. In January 1969, he and many others witnessed the ravages of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement on the Vietnam War, Senator Nelson wanted to infuse the energy of students with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution.

Senator Nelson announced the idea for a teach-in on college campuses to the national media, and persuaded Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey to serve as his co-chair. They recruited Denis Hayes, a young activist who had been the president of the student body at Stanford University, to organize the campus teach-ins and they choose April 22, a weekday falling between Spring Break and Final Exams, to maximize the greatest student participation.

Recognizing its potential to inspire all Americans, Hayes built a national staff of 85, including student volunteers and workers from Senator Nelson’s office, to promote events across the land and the effort soon broadened to include a wide range of organizations, faith groups, and others.

Nelson announced the Earth Day concept at a conference in Seattle in the fall of 1969 and invited the entire nation to get involved. He later recalled: “The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. Telegrams, letters and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes and air—and they did so with spectacular exuberance.”

Earth Day sparked national attention, and caught on across the country. Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans—at the time, 10% of the total population of the United States, 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. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment, and there were massive coast-to-coast rallies in cities, towns, and communities.

According to Nelson, “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.”

Earth Day’s Achievements

The groups that had been fighting individually against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife united on Earth Day around these shared common values. Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders. By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other first of their kind environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act. Two years later, Congress passed the Clean Water Act. A year after that, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, 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.

Earth Day Goes Global

As 1990 approached, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. 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, the Earth Day Network [EDN] collaborates with more than 17,000 partners and organizations in 174 countries. According to EDN, more than 1 billion people are involved in Earth Day activities, making it “the largest secular civic event in the world.”

Theme for Earth Day 2023: Invest in Our Planet

This year marks the 53rd anniversary of Earth Day, starting with its first commemoration in 1970. EARTHDAY.ORG [EDO], the global organizer of Earth Day and the largest recruiter of environmental movements worldwide, announced the theme for Earth Day 2023—”Invest in Our Planet.”

“In 2023 we must come together again in partnership for the planet. Businesses, governments and civil society have a responsibility to take action against the climate crisis and ignite the spark to accelerate change towards a green, prosperous and fair future. We must join together in our fight for the green revolution, and for the health of future generations. The time is now to Invest In Our Planet,” said Kathleen Rogers, President of EARTHDAY.ORG.

The theme of Earth Day 2023 reveals that investing in a green economy is the only path to a healthy, prosperous, and equitable future. We must collectively push away from the dirty fossil fuel economy and old technologies of centuries past—and redirect attention to creating a 21st century economy that restores the health of our planet, protects our species, and provides opportunities for all.

Earth Day Activities

To make a real impact on the planet, we need to acknowledge environmental issues and how to take action. Here are some Earth Day activities to get started:

  • Reduce Water Waste:

Every year, we have less clean drinking water available to drink. Let’s try to reuse and save water whenever we can.

  • Dispose Waste Properly:

People are polluting the planet at an alarming rate. Proper waste management can make a big difference.

  • Reduce Carbon Footprint:

Consider taking public transportation and cutting down on meat consumption to reduce carbon emissions.

  • Plant Trees:

Tree planting is essential for creating ecosystems by preventing soil erosion and reducing environmental pollution.

  • Avoid Plastic Use:

Plastic waste takes thousands of years to decompose, and it’s still piling up. We can help by avoiding single-use plastic items.

  • Keep the Environment Clean:

We need to treat our planet like our home and keep our natural environments clean, for example, the coasts, mountains, rivers, etc. just as we keep our own houses clean.

  • Use Energy-Efficient Appliances:

Using energy-efficient products and unplugging devices when not in use can prevent standby power consumption and help save on monthly bills.

  • Make Wise Consumption Choices:

Say no to fast fashion and disposable items, and choose sustainable and ethical options instead.

  • Make Every day like “Earth Day”:

Every year on Earth Day, we carry out diverse activities to conserve our planet. Let’s make every day like Earth Day by practicing these activities consistently to create a better world.