Question: What is Earth Day?
Answer: Each year, Earth Day — April 22nd — marks the anniversary of what many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. It’s a day on which events are held worldwide to increase awareness and appreciation of the earth’s natural environment. Earth Day is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network and is celebrated in more than 175 countries every year. In 2009, the United Nations designated April 22nd as International Mother Earth Day.
The name and concept of Earth Day was allegedly pioneered by John McConnell in 1969 at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco. Earth Day was first observed in San Francisco and other cities on March 21, 1970, the first day of spring. About the same time, the idea of a separate Earth Day came to U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media.
As a result, on April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies.
After the Earth Day demonstrations in 1970, and in response to the growing public demand for cleaner water, air and land, President Richard Nixon and Congress established the United States Environmental Protection Agency. EPA was tasked with the challenging goal of repairing the damage already done to the environment and to establish guidelines to help Americans in making a cleaner and safer environment a reality with the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.
The Ecology Flag was created by cartoonist Ron Cobb, in 1969. The symbol is a combination of the letters “E” and “O” taken from the words “Environment” and “Organism,” respectively. The flag is patterned after the United States’ flag, with thirteen alternating-green-and-whites stripes.
While Earth Day 1970 was focused on the United States, an organization launched by Denis Hayes, who was the original national coordinator in 1970, took it international in 1990 and organized events in 141 nations. Numerous communities celebrate Earth Week, an entire week of activities focused on environmental issues.
As the millennium approached, Hayes agreed to spearhead another campaign, this time focusing on global warming and pushing for clean energy. For Earth Day 2000, over 5,000 environmental groups around the world were on board, reaching out to hundreds of millions of people in a record 184 countries. For example, a talking drum chain traveled from village to village in Gabon, Africa, while hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
The fight for a clean environment continues in a climate of increasing urgency, as the ravages of climate change become more manifest every day. As a part of Earth Day, we can help write many more victories and successes into our history and channel our energy to build a clean, healthy and diverse world for generations to come.