Earth Day began in 1970, founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as a teach-in to educate students, with a wider aim of bringing environmental considerations into the public eye. Nelson had been inspired by the large-scale student anti-war movement across America, and realised that this was a path through which environmental considerations could be brought to the national political agenda.
Although environmental protection was still far from the front of many people’s minds, the 1960’s had been relatively active in terms of ecological awareness in America, as people began to realise the consequences of the industrial revolution. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring brought the dangers of environmental degradation into the mainstream public eye, and concern for the environment and the link between pollution and human health began to grow. In 1968, a Human Ecology Symposium was held, organised by Morton Hilbert and the U.S. Public Health Service to allow students to hear from scientists about the links between the environment and human health. Over the next two years, Hilbert and students worked to plan the first Earth Day, and it was held, along with a federal proclamation from Senator Nelson, on April 22nd, 1970, beginning a new wave of environmental activism.
On this day in 1970, Earth Day celebrations brought 20 million Americans to protest peacefully for environmental reform, and celebrations took place in two thousand colleges and universities, as well as across primary schools, secondary schools and communities. It has since grown into an annual celebration and campaign to spearhead activism with events in 193 countries, bringing environmental issues to the world stage.
Earth Day created a platform for real, practical change. The 1990 Earth Day boosted recycling efforts worldwide and helped to pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Earth Day 2016 was marked by the signing of the Paris Agreement and, in 2017, the Earth Day Network produced “toolkits” to aid organisations in educating others on Environmental and Climate Literacy.
This year, Earth Day focuses on ending plastic pollution. It will aim to support a global effort to stamp out single use plastics and create regulations on its disposal, as well as pushing for people to take personal responsibility for their own plastic consumption. The 8 million tonnes of plastic entering our oceans each year is having catastrophic effects on oceanic life and biodiversity, as well as our own health, and this push for stronger regulations can’t come fast enough. Earth Day reminds us that we have the power and responsibility to protect this Earth, and that we must stop treating it as if we have another one to go to.
"May there be only peaceful and cheerful Earth Days to come for our beautiful Spaceship
Earth as it continues to spin and circle in frigid space with its warm and fragile cargo of
- Proclamation signed by UN Secretary-General U Thant, 26th February 1971
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