What Is Earth Day? The History

What Is Earth Day? | The History

You're probably familiar with some of the problems facing our planet. Did you know that the first Earth Day helped start those conversations? This event started in the 1970s. Before then, people didn't know about many common environmental issues. The day quickly bloomed into the worldwide event it is today. Now, Earth Day is one of the largest events in the world

More than a billion people participate in Earth Day events and celebrations every year. These occasions bring together world leaders, businesses, stay-at-home moms, students and everyone in-between who wants to honor the Earth and preserve our environment.

Let's explore some Earth Day facts and how Earth Day became the powerful force it is today.

What Is Earth day?

Earth Day is all about environmental education. It raises awareness for environmental issues and promotes change across communities.

What Is Earth Day?

Earth Day is all about environmental education. It raises awareness for environmental issues and promotes change across communities. Many different events take place to educate individuals and promote cleaner environments. Educators teach learners about the planet. Communities arrange cleanups to combat litter and pollution. World leaders hold speeches. Citizens march in the streets to demand new policies and laws. People and businesses donate to the cause.

These events can teach people about environmental problems and how they can help solve these issues. Earth Day is also a good time for people to show businesses and governments what they want. When people take action and express their desires for a healthier planet, businesses and governments often notice. Individuals across the world are influencing increases in environmentally conscious business practices and signing petitions to support nature.

Some of the topics people explore on Earth Day include:

  • Recycling: Many people don't know the full picture of recycling. Earth Day is a great time to teach children about reducing, reusing and recycling. Adults can also learn more about the process. For example, many people think as long as their plastics make it to the recycle bin, they get a new life. But not all plastic recycles the same way. Much of it ends up in a landfill anyway. Understanding what materials we can recycle helps us stay aware of the packaging we use and recycle more effectively.
  • Planting trees: Trees are great for fighting climate change. They absorb carbon dioxide and other pollutants while releasing oxygen. They also create habitats for many creatures and provide shade to keep the planet cooler. Many people plant trees on Earth Day. Organizations might hold tree-planting events, too.
  • Energy use: Energy comes from many sources. Fossil fuels like coal and oil will eventually run out. But renewable sources like wind and water can offer more sustainable options. We can use Earth Day to learn about our energy use and consider our impact on the planet. Consider where the energy you use every day comes from.
  • Carbon emissions: Greenhouse gasses trap heat in our atmosphere. They ultimately warm up our planet. These gasses come from sources like cars and electricity. Common Earth Day activities involve teaching people about these effects and working to minimize carbon emissions. You could calculate your home's carbon footprint or support policies addressing greenhouse gas production.
  • Pollution: Pollution is in our water, air and land. Kids and adults can learn about how litter affects the planet or how smog endangers our health. A popular event to have on Earth Day is a cleanup. People band together with trash bags and wear old clothes. The large group moves through an area such as a beach or forest and picks up litter along the way.
  • E-qaste: Electronics consist of many valuable and sometimes hazardous materials. If we don't recycle these devices responsibly, those materials can harm the environment and human health. Earth Day is a good time to learn about e-waste and raise awareness.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other exciting topics to learn about on Earth Day, like green cities, agriculture and biodiversity.

This is the most popular form of Earth Day, but another one exists. This other version, called International Earth Day, was created at about the same time in 1969.

When Did Earth Day Start?

The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970. This was a Wednesday in-between Spring Break and final exams for students. Earth day is focused on education. A large reason the organizers chose this date was to allow more students to take part. It also didn't overlap with holidays like Easter and Passover. Lastly, it fell later in spring, when the weather tends to be warmer.

This is the most popular form of Earth Day, but another one exists. This other version, called International Earth Day, was created at about the same time in 1969. It occurs on the spring equinox. This is the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. At first, the April 22 version of Earth Day was centered on the United States. Now, it includes the rest of the world. 

International Earth Day didn't catch on in the same way, but the United Nations still rings a peace bell for it each year.

Earth Day History

Before the first Earth Day, most people were unaware of risks to the environment. They used gas-guzzling vehicles, and factories spewed pollution into the air and water. There were very few consequences for businesses or people creating pollution. In the '60s, several events started to bring environmental issues into the public eye. These included:

  • "Silent Spring": Rachel Carson released this book in 1961. It raised awareness about the effects of pesticides. It also covered the ways pesticide use harmed bird populations. Carson questioned governmental officials who were not critical enough about industry claims of pesticide safety. Additionally, she pushed back against the idea that humans are meant to control nature.
  • Cuyahoga River fire: This fire on a Cleveland river happened in 1969. It showed the effects of water pollution and poor waste disposal. The fire started because of a buildup of oil and debris on the surface of the Cuyahoga River. This body of water was also one of the most polluted in the nation at the time of the fire. An earlier fire had even occurred in 1952, though it didn't receive the same national attention.
  • The Santa Barbara oil spill: This oil spill in 1969 was the largest at the time. It spilled into the area's biodiverse ecosystems. The event occurred due to an oil well blowout that also broke open part of the seabed. As a consequence, thousands of birds were killed, along with an unknown amount of sea animals. Many surviving birds were taken to the Santa Barbara Zoo to be scrubbed free of oil and treated.
  • Earthrise: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) released the iconic photo, Earthrise. Astronauts on Apollo 8 took it in 1968. After the image gained popularity, people began to realize how fragile the Earth is. It became more important to take efforts to protect the planet and the people on it.

Gaylord Nelson was a Senator from Wisconsin. He proposed the first Earth Day at a Seattle conference in 1969. He wanted to create a day of education about these environmental issues. Teach-ins that opposed the Vietnam War inspired him. Nelson saw the passion that young people had for the war and civil rights. He thought the time was right to create the same enthusiasm for the environment.

Nelson hired a young activist named Denis Hayes to coordinate the first event. When Earth Day was created, it started out small. Passionate teams helped the project grow to involve the whole country and become what it is today. Rather than creating a political event, the organizers wanted to let the day grow on its own. This grassroots approach worked wonderfully.

At first, the events and programs targeted young people. The organizers quickly realized that many others wanted to take part. Parents wanted to create a better world for their children. Celebrities wanted to use their voices. Faith-based organizations stepped in, too, along with schools and other community groups.

The First Earth Day

This day brought 20 million people to the streets. At that time, this was one in 10 Americans. Earth Day 1970 is still considered the largest single-day protest in history. People demonstrated in the streets. They protested in universities. They held rallies across the United States. Nelson proudly commented on the nation's response. He said the remarkable thing about Earth Day was that it "organized itself." It brought together groups that were fighting these issues separately. It also united people from all backgrounds.

This work had some big effects. The country's opinions on environmental protection skyrocketed. A quarter of Americans thought protecting the environment was an important goal in 1971. That was a 2,500% increase over the poll results from 1969. New legislation swept through the government. These new policies included the Endangered Species Act and the Water Quality Improvement Act. The U.S. established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), too. In the next decade, the government made many important changes to support the environment.

The Current Earth Day Movement

Here are some modern campaigns Earth Day addresses:
• Fast fashion
• Biodiversity
• Foodprints

The Current Earth Day Movement

Of course, the conversation about the planet has changed in the last 50 years. Earth Day was an instrumental part of starting a serious discussion about the environment. Nelson was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work. The organizers reached across borders to turn Earth Day into an international event. Today, Earth Day is observed by more than 1 billion people in over 192 countries.

Earth Day was even chosen as the day for signing the Paris Agreement. This international treaty lists several goals for stopping climate change. It was signed on Earth Day in 2016.

The planet looks different than it did when the first Earth Day took place. The first Earth Day focused on issues like pollution and recycling. These are still important, but we have many new concerns to confront. Here are some modern campaigns Earth Day addresses:

  • Fast fashion: The fashion industry has caused many problems for the environment. Many clothes end up in landfills. Synthetic materials also hurt the planet. Many people are now raising awareness for fast fashion and its harms.
  • Biodiversity: Preserving our nation's ecosystem is no easy task. From corals to forests, conservation is a major goal for today's eco-warriors.
  • Foodprints: We now know the food we eat affects the planet. Some crops create more carbon than others. Some use more water or release pesticides into the ground. A climate-conscious diet limits these effects.

Earth Day now has a strong online presence, too. You can find livestreamed events like webinars, teach-ins and documentary screenings. Many people use social media to spread the word and gain support for the cause.

When Is Earth Day 2022?

Friday, April 22 is the official Earth Day date for 2022. However, many people and organizations celebrate it throughout the week. This year, we'll probably see events taking place over the weekend, when more kids are out of school and workers have the day off.

Every Earth Day has a theme. This year's concept is "Invest In Our Planet." 2022's event focuses on getting everyone to invest in protecting the planet:

  • Businesses: The private sector can play a big role in the fight against climate change. Sustainable business is necessary for the planet and a smart move for companies.
  • Governments: Governments can help create a greener society. They can fund certain projects and offer incentives for businesses. Government leaders can also back policy changes and partnerships that help the environment.
  • People: As always, individuals have the power to make themselves heard. They can boycott brands, attend a rally or lobby for legislation. Citizens can invest their time, money and skills in the cause.

Check out EARTHDAY.ORG's official map to find Earth Day events near you. You can find cleanups, rallies, seminars, religious services and much more. Many events are even being held online this year for social distancing.

You can also show your Earth Day spirit in other ways. Learn more about an environmental topic. Raise awareness by posting on social media. Attend a town council meeting to support green policies. If you have children, teach them what they can do for the planet. You could even start your own Earth Day event and rally your community. The possibilities are endless.

How ecoATM Does Earth Day

ecoATM has been helping the planet from day one, by creating an easy solution for used electronics that give used electronics the opportunity for a new life. We're big fans of Earth Day.

How ecoATM Does Earth Day

ecoATM has been helping the planet from day one, by creating an easy solution for used electronics that give used electronics the opportunity for a new life We're big fans of Earth Day. Electronic devices like cell phones, tablets have dangerous materials in them. These materials include lead, arsenic and mercury. If they reach landfills, they can be very harmful to the planet and those who live on it.

Fortunately, that doesn't need to happen. We purchase these devices and give them an opportunity for a new life. ecoATM makes it easy to responsibly sell your used electronic devices. 

ecoATM has kept over 37 million devices out of landfills. To put things into perspective, the recycling of over 37 million devices is the estimated equivalent of enough manufacturing power to keep 55,468 homes running for a year. Use Earth Day 2022 to trade in your old electronics and do your part. Learn more about our process or find a kiosk near you to get started.