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How Did Earth Day Start? The Origins of Earth Day, From Being a Small Awareness Program to a Global Environmental Movement

Every year on the 22nd of April, we celebrate Earth Day to mark the beginning of the modern environmental movement over five decades ago. This celebration isn’t limited to America; it is celebrated all over the world. However, Earth Day wasn’t always a worldwide environmental awareness movement. This article explores the humble beginnings of Earth Day and how it has evolved.

The book that set the stage

Before the first Earth Day was celebrated, Americans were oblivious to the negative effects of environmental pollution. They were consuming large amounts of leaded gas through inefficient automobiles. However, a book shed light on the issue.

Courtesy: UCS blog

In 1962, Rachel Carson wrote the New York Times Bestseller, Silent Spring. The book highlighted the links between pollution and public health; it raised awareness about the risks living organisms face. With over 500,000 copies sold in 24 countries, the book opened governments’ eyes.

Setting the pace

In 1970, a United States senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, recruited activist Danis Hayes to organize a national demonstration to raise awareness about environmental issues. This paved the way for rallies about the environment.

Courtesy: National Geographic

In the same year, the first Earth Day was celebrated- it became the largest secular day of protest in the world. Even kids and sweepers gathered to celebrate the first-ever Earth Day. The Environmental Protection Agency was also created at the end of the year. 

Making things official

Although Earth Day was first commemorated in 1970, significant legislation didn’t follow until 1980. During the 1980s, Earth Day became an international phenomenon that led to several international policies.

Courtesy: The Times and Democrat

In the United States, between 1970 and 1980, legislation like the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Endangered Species Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, and many others were formed. The 1980 Earth Day was celebrated in Washington, D.C., opposite the White House.

Producing significant impacts

As the years passed, more countries started joining in the Earth Day celebration. The 1990 Earth Day made even bigger waves on an international scale; the focus was on global recycling efforts. 

Courtesy: SGK Planet

Over 200 million people in 141 countries celebrated Earth Day in 1990, paving the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The huge Earth Day 1990 success also motivated President Bill Clinton to award Senator Gaylord Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom as the founder of Earth Day.

A change in focus

While the 1990 Earth Day focused on recycling, the Earth Day in 2000 focused on global warming and clean energy in the new millennium. Thanks to the internet, activists could communicate and plan together for Earth Day 2000.

Courtesy: Pexels

Over 5,000 groups participated, reaching out to hundreds of millions of people across 184 countries. While thousands of people gathered for rallies and marches, others celebrated the day with a talking drum chain from village to village. Fast forward to 2020, Earth Day was the largest online mass mobilization in the world.

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