On April 22 each year, Earth Day commemorates the birth of the modern environmental movement in America in 1970. Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin was inspired by the student anti-war movement to infuse the energy of the protests with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution. He recruited a young activist, Denis Hayes, to organise campus teach-ins and renamed the idea Earth Day, which immediately caught national media attention and spread across the country.
The first Earth Day in 1970 brought together 20 million Americans to protest against the impacts of industrial development on human health and the environment. Thousands of colleges and universities organised protests, and there were massive coast-to-coast rallies in cities, towns, and communities. By the end of 1970, this led to people taking environmental issues seriously and a number of laws were passed to protect the environment against pollution.
In 1990, Earth Day went global, mobilising 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his role as Earth Day founder.
In 2000, Earth Day focused on global warming and clean energy, leveraging the power of the internet to organise activists around the world. Earth Day 2000 sent world leaders a clear message: citizens wanted quick and decisive action on global warming and clean energy.
Today, EARTHDAY.ORG continues to bring hundreds of millions of people into the environmental movement, creating opportunities for civic engagement and volunteerism in 193 countries. Earth Day engages more than 1 billion people every year and has become a major stepping stone along the pathway of engagement around the protection of the planet.
The fight for a clean environment continues with increasing urgency, as the ravages of climate change become more and more apparent every day. EARTHDAY.ORG and Earth Day aim to empower individuals with the information, tools, messaging, and communities needed to make an impact and drive change. For more information on how to join this movement, visit the EARTHDAY.ORG website.