The History of Earth Day

April 22, 1970 marked the birth of the modern environmental movement.

Close to 48 years ago, millions of people took to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate support for environmental protection and protest against the negative impacts of 150 years of industrial development.

Photo: Denver Public Library

“Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.

Earth Day 1970 gave voice to that emerging consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement and putting environmental concerns on the front page.” – Earth Day Network

Photo: Sutori

After witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, had the idea for a national day focused on the environment.  He was inspired by the anti-war movement among students and realized that this energy could be combined with the emerging public awareness and consciousness in regards to air and water pollution.  This would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.

The efforts and protest of Earth Day 1970 made a difference and achieved a rare alignment, gaining support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, people from the cities and farmers, businessmen, industrialist and labor leaders.  By the end of that year the United States Environmental Protection Agency was created and the Clean AirClean Water, and Endangered Species Acts were passed.

Earth Day is now an annual global event.  More than 1 billion people in 192 countries now take part in what is considered to be the largest environmental movement, according to Earth Day Network.


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