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 might think that these are all new and pretty recent developments but with Earth Day fast approaching, 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, but 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 raising concern for the environment and the undeniable connection between pollution and public health.
The idea for the first Earth Day:
- 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 anti-war 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 to organize the campus teach-ins choosing April 22, a weekday falling between Spring Break and Final Exams, to maximize student participation.
- 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 achieved a rare overarching sense of community, gaining support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban and rural population. The first Earth Day led to the 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.
Moving on into more recent years:
- 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 goes global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries using the world stage to raise awareness and take action.
- Earth Day 1990 greatly boosted recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also inspired 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 approached, Hayes agreed to spearhead 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 built both global and local conversations, leveraging the power of the Internet to organize activists around the world. Also featuring a drum chain that travelled from village to village in Gabon, Africa. 30 years on, Earth Day 2000 sent world leaders a loud and clear message: Citizens around the world wanted quick and decisive action on global warming and clean energy.
- Earth Day 2010: 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. Day prevailed despite these major challenges and EARTHDAY.ORG re-established Earth Day as a major event for global environmental action.
- 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 has become a major event and motivation for the protection of our planet.
- Earth Day is now widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year 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, 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.
Here is the 2023 events map.
Happy Earth Day everyone,
Read more about how we can all contribute to human and planetary health in my blog here
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