It’s the ultimate green holiday, and no, I am not talking about St. Patrick’s Day. I’m talking about a day when we come together to celebrate our planet and renew our resolve to protect it. It’s Earth Day.
But where exactly did this holiday come from? Most kids hear about it in elementary school as they’re growing bean plants and painting Styrofoam models of the solar system (guilty), but I personally had no idea when or where the concept of Earth Day started. If you don’t either, read on for 10 fun facts about Earth Day and how it came to fruition.
- The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970, and involved 20 million participants across the United States.
- Earth Day was founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin. He wanted to convince the government that our environment was at risk, and he proposed Earth Day 1970 as a way to “shake the political establishment out of its lethargy.”
- The idea for Earth Day came to Senator Nelson after witnessing the effects of the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. In order to get some real social and political attention on the Earth’s behalf, Nelson envisioned a nationwide grassroots demonstration. It was largely inspired by the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations and college campus “teach-ins” happening around the U.S. during the late 60s.
- The first Earth Day was a huge success and promoted environmental awareness nationwide. Public opinion polls in 1971 indicated that 25% of the U.S. public found protecting the environment to be an important goal, a 2,500% increase over 1969.
- By the end of 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been founded and legislation to improve air and water quality throughout the nation was progressing—in large part because of the first Earth Day.
- Earth Day happens every year on April 22. It’s rumored that the date was chosen because it’s the birthday of Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union who shared communism-based environmentalist ideals. But according to Kathleen Rogers, president of the Earth Day Network, April 22, 1970, was chosen because it was a Wednesday, the best day of the week for people to leave work and attend the environmental rallies across the country.
- The Earth Day Network (EDN) is an environmental organization that was founded in response to the first Earth Day. The EDN now works with more than 22,000 partners in 192 countries to “broaden, diversify, and mobilize the environmental movement” by organizing environmental campaigns on issues like climate change and saving whales. The EDN also supports core programs that promote environmental education and accelerate the global green economy.
- In 2011, the EDN chose “A Billion Acts of Green” as the theme of that year’s Earth Day. A Billion Acts of Green is the largest environmental service campaign in the world and seeks to measurably reduce carbon emissions and support sustainability by rewarding green acts of individuals and large organizations. The EDN has a goal to register one billion green actions by the global Earth Summit in Rio in 2012. Go to http://act.earthday.org or check out this blog post to find out how you can get involved.
- In 1990, 800,000 people gathered at the National Mall to honor the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. Senator Nelson himself got up to speak to the crowd and said, “I don’t want to have to come limping back here 20 years from now on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and have the embarrassing responsibility of telling your sons and daughters that you didn’t do your duty—that you didn’t become the conservation generation that we hoped for.” Nelson passed away in 2005 before he was able to see the 40th anniversary of his brainchild, but not before President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom for founding Earth Day.
- Earth Day is now celebrated every year by more than 1 billion people in 180 nations worldwide, making it the largest civic observance in the world.
Happy Earth Day, everyone!