The History and Origin of Earth Day

Some of you might be familiar with this event, and others might have heard of it but don’t really know much about its significance. Especially in the last couple of years we are bombarded with information and news flashes about the Climate Crisis, plastic pollution, biodiversity loss through pesticides and other environmental issues. We could think that these are all new and pretty
recent developments but you might be surprised about its history and origin: Celebrated on April 22, Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970, yet the root of this movement can be found even a few years before that.

Here is a historical timeline:


  • 1962: publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring. The book represented a watershed moment in public awareness, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries. Its central message was raising concern for the environment and the undeniable connection between pollution and public health.  Rachel Carson received a letter in 1958 that really resonated with her own concerns about environmental issues and led to her starting to write her book.


  • The Wisconsin junior senator Gaylord Nelson had been concerned about the deteriorating environment for a long time. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, Nelson wanted to channel and integrate the energy of student protests with a new emerging public concern about air and water pollution. He announced the idea for a teach-in (informal lecture and discussion or series of lectures on a subject of public interest) on college campuses to the national media. Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, and Denis Hayes, a young activist, joined forces to organize the campus teach-ins choosing April 22, a weekday falling between Spring Break and Final Exams, to involve as many students as possible.


  • Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans (10% of the total population) to take to the streets to demonstrate against the impacts of 150 years of industrial development which had left a growing legacy of man-made threats to human and environmental health.


  • Earth Day 1970 achieves a rare overarching sense of community, gaining support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban and rural population. The first Earth Day leads to the monumental creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passing 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.


  • 1990: Earth Day goes global: A group of environmental leaders persuade Denis Hayes to once again organize another major campaign for environmental awareness and the health of our Planet Earth. Earth Day mobilises 200 million people in 141 countries using the world stage to raise awareness and take action.


  • Earth Day 1990 greatly boosts recycling efforts worldwide and helps pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also inspires President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest honour given to civilians in the United States — for his achievements as Earth Day founder.


  • As the millennium approaches, Hayes agrees to spearhead yet another campaign, this time focused on global warming and a push for clean energy. With 5,000 environmental groups in a record 184 countries reaching out to hundreds of millions of people, Earth Day 2000 builds both global and local conversations, leveraging the power of the Internet to organize activists around the world, while also featuring a drum chain that travels from village to village in Gabon, Africa. 30 years on, Earth Day 2000 sends world leaders a loud and clear message: Citizens around the world want quick and decisive action on global warming and clean energy.


  • Earth Day 2010: It’s a time of great challenge for environmental activists and organisations to combat climate change denial supported by well-funded oil lobbyists, reticent politicians, a disinterested public, and a divided environmental community. EARTHDAY.ORG re-establishes Earth Day as a major event for global environmental action despite these major challenges.


  • Since its establishment, EARTHDAY.ORG has brought hundreds of millions of people into the environmental movement, creating opportunities for public engagement and activism in 193 countries.  Earth Day engages more than 1 billion people every year and is now widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world. It’s firmly established as a day of awareness and action to change human behaviour and create policy changes. The fight for environmental healing continues accelerating in urgency, as the effects of climate change become more and more obvious to even the biggest doubters.


  • Recently, we are seeing a significant increase in environmental awareness.  Disillusioned and frustrated by governmental inaction, capitalist power and missing leadership, citizens of the world are rising up to demand greater and faster action for our planet and its people. Millions of people are inspired and passionate about taking matters into their own hands and being part of a grassroots movement.

This year, once again, we globally celebrate Earth Day with uncountable efforts around the world to protect and heal our planet Earth. Read here about this year’s top 10 Earth Day Events, and maybe you are inspired to take action yourself.

Source: www.earthday.org

When we read about global events of this magnitude, it’s easy for us to think that we as individuals can’t make a difference. But think back to Rachel Carson, and what one person’s passion and resolve can achieve. One of my favourite quotes of all time is this:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals
can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has."
Margaret Mead.

Every small change in behaviour, thought and routine will make a

Happy Earth Day!

Alex Koster is a Nature Educator, Connection Coach, Training Provider in Nature Connection Approaches for mental health- and education professionals and author of the multi-award-winning book: “Roots and Wings – Childhood needs a Revolution.”

She is also a mum, wife, gardener, mindfulness practitioner, tree hugger, spider protector, foraging enthusiast and passionate about all things human- and planetary health.

You can meet her here:

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