By Sara Weinreb
This year we celebrate the 50th year of Earth Day! While I personally believe that Earth Day should be every day, especially with all we know now about humans’ impact on the planet, times looked pretty different back when Earth Day started. Let’s take a look at how this holiday came to be.
The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, arose after the protests in the 60s for environmental protection. Author Rachel Carson published her book Silent Spring in 1962 which warned the public about the use of pesticides, leading to a raised consciousness about what we put on our land and our food. In 1969, a devastating oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, showed onlookers the need for immediate action to protect our planet, further hoisting the need for environmental action into the spotlight.
It was that same year that Wisconsin’s Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson came up with the idea inspired by the “teach-in” movement during the anti-Vietnam War protests. The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970, since Senator Nelson imagined the event to be a teach-in, and wanted to ensure college students would still be on campus. It was a huge success, with an estimated 20 million participants coming together to celebrate the earth and show solidarity for our fundamental need to protect her all across the country, with major rallies in New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington DC, and beyond. You can read more in-depth about the first Earth Day in this insightful interview of one of the Earth Day founders, Denis Hayes, in Time.
After the first Earth Day, the date stuck and people started celebrating yearly. Environmental issues started becoming a priority for Americans, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was authorized by Congress in December of 1970 to address environmental issues.
Earth Day grows every year, with the movement spanning across the globe, addressing dozens of issues, and for some communities, spanning a whole week. The movement is organized by the Earth Day Network, which provides important educational and advocacy material for those looking to get involved. There are rallies across the world, as well as various activities organized by towns, communities, businesses, and beyond, like beach cleanups, advocacy programs, give back programs, and more.
It’s now seemingly impossible to miss Earth Day if you simply open your phone or computer on April 22 since so many people take the time to celebrate the earth and our need to protect it. While Earth Day needs to be every day, it’s exciting to see that the movement continues to grow, and hopefully the actions people take on April 22 trickle down into the rest of their year. It’s amazing to think that just 50 years ago there was no government agency dedicated to protecting the earth, and how far we’ve come. Yet, we still have a far way to go!
How do you celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd and beyond?