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The History of Earth Day

Imogen Aley

April is Earth Month, and during this time we get to celebrate the planet we call home and reflect on both the past and the future, good or bad. The short time span that humanity has existed has created a big impact; plastics are becoming part of the geology of the land, we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction, and we created a hole in the ozone layer from the chemicals we used. We have impacted our planet in big, and possibly irreversible, ways. This is why it is important to raise awareness about various environmental issues and our impact on the planet.

Prior to the beginning of Earth Day, vastly inefficient vehicle engines exposed the public to leaded gas and industries polluted both the air and water with little consequence. Though it may be obvious now, there was little concern about the health impacts this kind of pollution could have. Then came the 60s; an era of the Peace and Love movement and general concern for humanity. The anti-war movement was gaining momentum and the public slowly became more educated about environmental health with influential books like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

Inspired by the anti-war movement and the growing public consciousness about the environment, Senator Gaylord Nelson, with student and activist Denis Hayes, and Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, organized the first Earth Day on April 22nd, 1970. His motivation behind the national celebration was to force environmental issues into the nation’s agenda and educate participants about environmental conservation. And so, on April 22nd, 1970, 20 million people across the United States came together to celebrate the Earth - both Republicans and Democrats. But the celebrations did not stop in the United States. In 1990, Denis Hayes, made Earth Day international. More than 200 million people participated in over 140 countries; Earth Day unites people from all over the world for a common cause.

Earth Day brought the quality of the environment and its various health impacts into the face of public attention. People began to take notice and demand that their environment should be taken care of. Currently, over 190 countries participate in Earth Day with over a billion individuals taking action. As a result, governmental policies and acts began to emerge. Just ten years after the first Earth Day, twelve acts were passed, including but not limited to: The Clean Air Act, The Safe Drinking Water Act, and The Endangered Species Act. Arguably, the establishment of the EPA could be considered more important, as they are the ones monitoring our environment and making sure it is safe from pollutants, as well as holding those responsible for damages accountable.

Earth Day has had a monumental impact on how we as the public view our environment, and how it is treated by those in charge of making sure we have a right to a healthy environment. Earth Day has become international, and the importance of the environment is now recognized worldwide through global meetings like the UN Conventions on Climate Change, and agreements like the Paris Climate Agreement. Despite these advances, we should also use Earth Day to recognize that humanity’s approach to tackling something as complex as climate change is not perfect, and so we need to raise awareness on various issues. Earth Day is a day for celebration, but also education.


  1. Earth Day '70: What it meant. Environmental Protection Agency. (2016, September 16).

  2. The history of earth day. Earth Day. (2022, May 11).

  3. The First Earth Day in April 1970. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.).

  4. Evers, J. (Ed.). (2022, May 20). Earth day. National Geographic Education.


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