Earth Day is an annual event celebrated around the world on April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protection.
On January 28, 1969, a well drilled by Union Oil Platform A off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew out. More than three million gallons of oil spewed, killing more than 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. As a reaction to this disaster, activists were mobilized to create environmental regulation, environmental education, and Earth Day. Among the proponents of Earth Day were the people in the front lines of fighting this disaster, Selma Rubin, Marc McGinnes, and Bud Bottoms, founder of Get Oil Out.
In 1969 at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honor the Earth and the concept of peace, to first be celebrated on March 21, 1970, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. This day of nature’s equipoise was later sanctioned in a proclamation written by McConnell and signed by Secretary General U Thant at the United Nations.
A month later a United States Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed the idea to hold a nationwide environmental teach-in on April 22, 1970. He hired a young activist, Denis Hayes, to be the National Coordinator. Nelson and Hayes renamed the event “Earth Day.”
According to Nelson, the moniker “Earth Day” was “an obvious and logical name” suggested by a lot of other people in the fall of 1969, including, he writes, both “a friend of mine who had been in the field of public relations” and “a New York advertising executive,” Julian Koenig
Nelson was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom award in recognition of his work.
Denis Hayes said that Senator Gaylord Nelson was inspired to create Earth Day upon seeing Santa Barbara Channel 800 square-mile oil slick from an airplane
The first Earth Day was focused on the United States – in two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities.
On the first anniversary of the oil blowout, January 28, 1970, Environmental Rights Day was celebrated, where the Declaration of Environmental Rights was read.
In 1990, Denis Hayes, the original national coordinator in 1970, took it international and organized events in 141 nations.
Earth Day activities in 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Unlike the first Earth Day in 1970, this 20th Anniversary was waged with stronger marketing tools, greater access to television and radio, and multimillion-dollar budgets.
As the millennium approached, Hayes agreed to spearhead another campaign, this time focusing on global warming and pushing for clean energy. The April 22 Earth Day in 2000 combined the big-picture feistiness of the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990.
This was the first year that Earth Day used the Internet as its principal organizing tool, and it proved invaluable nationally and internationally.
Leonardo DiCaprio was the official host for the event, and about 400,000 participants stood in the cold rain during the course of the day.
It now includes events coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network chaired by Denis Hayes, in more than 193 countries.
On Earth Day 2016, the landmark Paris Agreement was signed by the United States, China, and some 120 other countries. This signing satisfied a key requirement for the entry into force of the historic draft climate protection treaty adopted by consensus of the 195 nations present at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.
Earth Day 2020 is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. Celebrations will include activities such as the Great Global CleanUp, Citizen Science, Advocacy, Education, and art.
The five components:
- Citizen Science: Earth Day is leveraging Citizen Science and emerging technologies to engage one million global citizens in the 50th anniversary “Earth Challenge 2020,” collecting one billion data points to measure air quality, water quality, pollution and human health. This initiative is being developed in association with dozens of major partners in the science and health communities as well as leading technology companies.
- Advocacy: The time is now to mobilize and take action to save our planet. Earth Day will amplify direct links between technological innovation and inclusive climate prosperity, two signature themes we will be emphasizing around the world as we build towards the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day in 2020. Earth Day is creating millions of avenues for civic engagement in all 190 countries around the world and working with global decision-makers, including policy makers, local, regional and national governments and corporate sector leaders, to reach a diverse network of citizens around the world.
- Volunteering: Earth Day is engaging volunteers across the globe for a month-long worldwide volunteer-driven program, “The Great Global Cleanup” and starting with cleanups for Earth Day 2019. We expect 100 million people participating in public events, as well as one billion others — including K-12 students around the world — to remove billions of pieces of trash from our neighborhoods, beaches, and parks. EDN is also working with partners to plant 7.8 billion trees, one for every human who will live on the planet in 2020. Combined, these volunteer activities will be the largest volunteer event in history.
- Education: Earth Day is building environmental and climate literacy worldwide. EDN will continue to work with teachers, students, innovators and thought leaders to educate and activate a new generation of environmental leaders around the world.
- Events: Earth Day is now recognized worldwide as the planet’s most significant civic engagement event each year. The 50th anniversary of Earth Day will be marked by tens of thousands of rallies and community events in every country in the world, and large-scale signature events to take place in Washington, D.C., and other global capitals.
- Artists for the Earth: As Earth Day reaches its milestone 50th Anniversary in April 2020, nature and the environment are faced with enormous challenges from loss of biodiversity, pollution, degradation of our ecosystems, and climate change. Art must join with science to personalize climate change and disseminate it to a wider audience
“At Earth Day Network, the health and safety of volunteers and participants in Earth Day events is our top concern. Amid the recent outbreak, we encourage people to rise up but to do so safely and responsibly — in many cases, that means using our voices to drive action online rather than in person,” said Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network.
An Earth Anthem penned by Abhay K, an Indian poet-diplomat and India’s 21st Ambassador to Madagascar and Ambassador to Comoros, which has been translated into 50 languages is used by many schools and organizations across the world to celebrate Earth Day
Numerous communities celebrate Earth Week, an entire week of activities focused on the environmental issues that the world faces.
According to Denis, Earth Day is now “the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year