Earth Day History!

Earth Day is celebrated annually on April 22nd to mark the anniversary of the modern environmental movement. This date was supposedly chosen because students were more likely to be available, as it falls between spring breaks and final exams. The first Earth Day celebration in the United States was held in 1970, as widespread concern began to emerge in regard to environmental topics, spurred by research and advocacy.

Rachel Carson, activist and author

Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, which highlighted the dangers of pesticides and related ecological concepts. In 1969, fires in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River shed additional light on the dangers of chemicals, in this case their waste and disposal. Additionally, anti-Vietnam war protestors, primarily on college campuses, were agitating for widespread societal changes.

Gaylord Nelson (Senator, D-Wisconsin) announced the idea of an Earth Day after the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Nelson was inspired by anti-war demonstrators and hoped to channel that energy for environmental topics. He convinced Pete McCloskey (House of Representatives, R-California) to serve as co-chair and Denis Hayes (activist, Stanford) as national coordinator. The 1970 Earth Day attracted 20 million Americans in coast-to-coast rallies, primarily organized through grassroots efforts.

The Environmental Protection Agency was created in December 1970, partially as a result of the widespread citizen mobilization efforts. In May 1971, 25% of the US public reported that they viewed protecting the environment as an important goal, a 2,500% increase over 1969 polls. By the end of the 1970s, the Clean Air, Clean Water, Endangered Species, Toxic Substances Control, and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Acts, were all enacted, partially as responses to the success of Earth Day events and the environmental movement.

Nelson (right) with William K. Reilly (left, former EPA Administrator)

The first global Earth Day was in 1990, in which 200 million people engaged across 141 countries. The key outcomes were an uptick in global recycling efforts and an increased awareness for the 1992 Rio de Janeiro UN Earth Summit. Earth Day 2000 included 184 countries and focused on clean energy and global warming. Today, more than 1 billion people across the globe participate in Earth Day events.

The theme for Earth Day 2018 is “End Plastic Pollution” – check out events in your area! Near LMU, the Venice Learning Garden is hosting a film screening and panel discussion on seeds and GMOs on April 22nd. Heal the Bay has a range of Earth Day events – including a Film Festival and beach clean ups! CURes Environmental Leadership Fellow Lisa Fimiani is leading a sunset bird walk in the Ballona Wetlands, as part of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands Earth Day Celebration on April 28th. Make sure to see what other projects you can be involved with – the Earth will thank you!