The Origins of Earth Day

April 22, 2017 marks the 47th annual celebration of Earth Day. Multiple countries around the world will participate. Children in schools will create nature projects and the public will march in celebration of the environment. However, why do people do this? What was the real reason for the creation of Earth Day?

The concept of Earth Day emerged at the height of counterculture in the United States. As the war was raging in Vietnam people nationwide protested the idea of violence and nuclear weapons. Air pollution was at its height as businesses were not under any regulation. The word “environment” was rarely heard on the news or in government meetings. Until a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin decided it was time to make a change.


In 1969, after witnessing the massive oil spills in Santa Barbara, California, Gaylord Nelson developed an idea. He noticed the strong student anti-war movement, and believed that emerging public consciousness could be used for environmental protection. His idea was, therefore, based on a “national teach-in on the environment.” April 22nd was chosen as the day to “celebrate.”

April 22nd was not chosen on a whim. It was actually chosen to maximize college participation. After looking at college calendars, he realized the week of April 19-25 did not fall during exams or spring break, as well as did not conflict with an holidays such as Easter or Passover. He also chose the 22nd, because it fell on a Wednesday and believed there would be less competition from other events.

After recruiting a staff of over 80 people to promote events across the country, on April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans celebrated the first Earth Day by promoting sustainability through massive rallies. People protested air pollution, toxic dumps, pesticides, the extinction of wildlife, and many more issues.


The first Earth Day achieved a feat not many events have done before. It aligned Democrats and Republicans, the rich and poor, students and leaders, all together for one cause. The support for the event helped lead to the creation of the United State Environmental Protection Agency as well as paved the way for the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered species act.

By 1990, it was a full-on celebration in the United States. However, this was the year that the event went global. Environmental issues around the world were supported including a huge call for increase of recycling efforts.


With environmental issues once again taking front stage, this year’s Earth Day is just as important as it has ever been. Over 190 countries and billions of people are expected to participate in projects and rallies around the world.