The History of Earth Day

Earth day is an annual event celebrating the achievements of the environmental movement and raising awareness to the importance of ecological sustainability for long-term human stability. April 22nd, 1970, marks the first Earth Day in history, which mobilized 20 million Americans across the continent. Today, it’s estimated that 1 billion people participate, making Earth Day the largest secular movement in the world. In this two-part series, we first look at the history of Earth Day and how it’s celebrated across the globe. In Part 2, we’ll review more history and how Earth Day has transformed with changing trends – namely, political shifts, environmental activism, climate change awareness and social diversity and inclusivity. You’ll also be provided with Earth Day resources to help you participate on this special day.

The history of Earth Day and how it’s celebrated across the globe

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring came as a watershed moment in how we view the planet and our impact on it. The book renounced the sinister degradation of our natural world by mass chemical pesticide and insecticide use. Carson describes chemical pest control as a poisonous agricultural ooze, stifling life and bird song from our springs.

Published in 1962, Silent Spring sold more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries and kick-started the environmental movement. This movement demanded a shift in perspective, where nature was no longer seen as something to be controlled for man’s convenience, but rather as a connected part, essential for human development and stability.

Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, Source.

Inspired by Carson’s work, American politician and environmentalist Senator Gaylord Nelson, targeted an already emerging public consciousness around air and water pollution. In 1969, Nelson delivered a series of lectures and discussions on college campuses to educate towards the goal of reducing humanity’s impact on our planet.

April 22nd was the date chosen for these college teach-ins. As a weekday falling between spring break and final exams, this date maximized student participation. To help him with his quest, Nelson recruited young activist Denis Hayes and conservation-minded Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey. Hayes soon recognized the potential to expand the reach of these teach-ins and inspire all Americans. As such, the team grew and promoted events across the continent. The day was renamed Earth Day, a marketing move that attracted a lot of media attention.

Earth day history: Where it all started

The first Earth day celebrations occurred on April 22nd, 1970, in the United States. Since then, the celebrations have repeated every year, with 2020 marking the 50th anniversary. As each year passes, Earth Day has progressed and accrued supporters:

  • 1970: The first Earth Day mobilized 20 million Americans (10% of the US population) to protect our planet.
  • 1990: Earth Day goes global, rallying 200 million people in 141 countries.
  • 2000: The power of digital technology is leveraged to create awareness and drive conversations concerning environmentalism. 5,000 environmental groups in 180 countries used digital platforms to engage with the general public on a global scale.
  • 2010: 75,000 global partners across 192 countries engage with Earth Day. The Earth Day Network launched novel projects, for example, the A Billion Acts of Green project. This project engaged 30 million people to use social media and encourage green activities. The Canopy Project is also launched, an initiative to plant trees across the globe.
  • 2020: 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, Earth Day goes digitally remote for the first time in history, flooding channels with environmental action.

Earth day is a global event celebrated across the world 

The purpose of Earth Day is to educate, explaining why society needs to evolve to have symbiosis with our planet, and how society can preserve our resources to achieve this. Let’s take a look at the type of Earth Day celebrations that have occurred on the world stage since 1970.

  • United States, Washington DC: Rallies, lectures and marches are organized by scientists and civic organizations. Washington DC also hosts a free community festival bringing together nonprofits, small businesses and communities.
  • Denmark, Copenhagen: Earth Day celebrations occur at Christiansborg Castle Square. Celebrations include drum playing with players pointed at the four corners of the world. Participants then join the March for Science, which aims to hold elected officials accountable for green initiatives.
  • United Kingdom, London: Collective activities and musicians perform, raising funds for British charities and groups fighting climate change. The celebrations also feature environmental speakers, dance, yoga, shamans, vegan food and more.
  • British Columbia, Vancouver: Vancouver hosts Earth Day parades and festivals that provide various educational talks and activities.
  • Japan, Tokyo: Celebrations occur across two days. 100,000 visitors are expected to enjoy family activities and learn about sustainable business methods and ways to promote environmental protection.
  • Australia, Sydney: Sydney hosts nature walks with experts and focuses on giving actionable advice for how residents can create a more sustainable home.

How To Participate On Earth Day 2023

The theme of Earth Day 2023 is ‘Invest in Our Planet’. This theme is designed to persuade businesses, governments and citizens around the world of the need to invest in our planet to improve our environment and give our descendants a better and safer future.

Between April 20-22, you can join the world’s leaders for Earth Day:

  • April 20th: Earth Day begins with the global youth climate summit led by Earth Uprising in collaboration with My Future My Voice, OneMillionOfUs, plus more.
  • April 21st: Educational International will lead the Teach for the Planet: Global Education Summit. This is a multilingual virtual summit to span across several time zones and feature prominent activists from every continent.
  • April 22nd: will host its second Earth Day Live digital event here, beginning at 12pm EST. This day will include workshops, panel discussions and special performance focusing on the concept of Restore Our Earth. World climate leaders, grassroots activists, nonprofit innovators, thought leaders, industry leaders, artists, musicians and influencers will come together to discuss today’s greatest environmental and social challenges and collaborate on solutions.

You can continue building the incredible history of Earth Day by playing a part in its call to action and future goals! Be proactive and educate yourself, colleagues, family and friends! Check out Green Business Bureau’s Earth Day resources, listed below:

About the Author

Jane Courtnell is a Content Writer for Process Street. With a Biology degree from Imperial College London and further studies at Imperial College’s Business School, Jane has an enthusiasm for science communication and how biology can be used to solve business issues, such as employee wellbeing, culture, and business sustainability.

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