Earth Day – The History and How To Celebrate


High altitude view of the slight curvature to the earth from the cockpit of an airplane 10 000 meters high (Getty Images).

Earth, due to human activity, is in trouble. The ozone layer is depleting, ecosystems are being lost and people are starving and dying of dehydration. Endangered species are disappearing rapidly, our water and air is becoming increasingly polluted, and weather systems are being pushed to the extreme.

A scary picture indeed, but thankfully one we can all do something about! Earth Day, one of the first global initiatives to protect and conserve the earth, has become an annual event that strives for positive change on a global scale. It aims to inspire individuals, communities, businesses and governments all over the world to take action and help preserve the planet.

The home planet. (AP Photo/NASA)

History of Earth Day

As the world’s largest environmental movement and the most widely celebrated secular occasion, with over 1 billion people and more than 75,000 partners involved each year across almost 200 countries, Earth Day has gone from strength to strength over the course of its history.

Founder Gaylord Nelson, a former US senator, thought of the idea after witnessing the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the vigor of the student anti-war movement, he believed it was essential that energy was shifted to concerns about air and water pollution.

Originally envisioned as a campus teach-in event, Senator Nelson enlisted youth activist Denis Hayes to help organize the first Earth Day in 1970, and the pair opted for 22 April due to where it fell in the academic year, ensuring that the maximum number of students would be able to take part.

Nelson, Hayes and their team were able to spread the message far and wide, including to the national media, and promote events across the US. The occasion was a massive success, with 20 million Americans taking to the streets to celebrate the first Earth Day. They demonstrated in support of the cause, and groups that had previously been rallying around environmental issues separately came together on the day due to their shared values.

The first Earth Day helped put environmental protection on the political agenda and bring about change. That same year the United States Environmental Protection Agency was set up, and soon after various legislation was passed, including the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts.

FILE – This May 9, 2012, file photo, shows the Grandview State Park overlooking the New River Gorge National River in Grandview, W.Va. The state offers numerous trails for hiking and other spots with scenic views. With West Virginia poised to lose another congressional seat due to its long, steady population decline, Republican lawmakers are convinced a massive tax cut is the key to reversing the trend. (Kenny Kemp/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP, File)

It wasn’t until 1990 that Earth Day went global, spreading the message to 200 million people in over 140 countries. By the millennium it had reached more than 180 countries and involved hundreds of millions of participants worldwide. And of course the year 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

2016’s Earth Day was a particularly special year, as it heralded the United Nations’ adoption of the Paris Agreement. Signed by 175 countries, this international treaty established legally binding targets for tackling the climate emergency, ensuring that as many nations as possible are working together to cut emissions and prevent global warming.

As a day of action, Earth Day aims to promote environmentalism through engagement, activism, education, policy changes and peaceful protest. It has focused on various themes over the years, such as climate change, trees, clean water and a healthy environment for children, and multiple organizations and venues host events that showcase the importance of caring for the environment.

This vital day teaches people about the consequences of their behavior on the places and ecosystems in which they live. And it’s not just about the damaging effects on the environment itself, but also about the impact on people’s health, access to food and water, safety and livelihoods. To get involved, people choose to make conscientious changes such as recycling more, using renewable fuel and conserving water.

How to celebrate Earth Day

There are a whole host of activities you can get involved in to mark this important occasion, not only around the globe but even in space! The Earth Day website allows people all over the world to find and share events designed to celebrate the day, from presentations and film screenings to cleanups and conservation efforts. This means that Earth Day enthusiasts can join things local to them or on the other side of the planet! And NASA often hosts an event from the International Space Station, for example livestreaming the image of our beautiful earth for all to see.

Another great way to celebrate Earth Day is by learning about what your actions do to the environment and why maintaining the earth’s ecosystems is vital to our survival. There’s a myriad of online resources – articles, quizzes, documentaries and so much more – to help us all find out more about our precious planet and the role we can play in protecting it.

Massive flat topped iceberg floating in the Southern Ocean of Antarctica showing the weathered cracks and fissures on the sides (File/Getty)

If you feel able, why not donate money via Earth Day’s official website or to another environmental charity such as Greenpeace, the Rainforest Alliance or the Union of Concerned Scientists? Your support will help with a whole range of campaigns and projects, including pushing governments and businesses towards more environmentally friendly policies, preventing damaging practices such as deforestation and mining for fossil fuels and protecting those communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. You could also volunteer for local environmental groups and really make a difference where you live.

Above all, this occasion shouldn’t just be about one day, but rather a regular habit! Even the simplest of changes to our lifestyle can make a real difference. Switch to using an eco-friendly search engine, buy fruit and veg from the shop that isn’t wrapped in plastic, and put on an extra jumper rather than turning on the heating.

If you’re serious about the planet, then there’s plenty more you can do to live in a greener, more sustainable way, including powering your home with renewable energy, cycling and walking more and driving less (or buying an electric vehicle), reducing your meat and seafood consumption, recycling your waste, planting wildflowers in your garden for the bees and butterflies, and ensuring that your financial investments, for example, your pension fund, are contributing to green jobs and a green economy. Be sure to spread the word about Earth Day through social media and let your friends and family know why protecting the earth is essential to you.

Key Info

Dates: Every April 22nd
Hashtag: #EarthDay
Founded by: Gaylord Nelson

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