For 50 years, April 22nd has marked the celebration of Earth Day. An international event bringing attention to and building awareness of the planet that we live on. Pollution, climate change, endangered species and other environmental issues have been brought to the forefront of the conversation with the celebration of Earth Day and Earth Week.
Earth Day 1970 provided a voice to the emerging environmental consciousness and channeled the energy of the anti-war protest movement to environmental concerns. While the Cuyahoga River Fire of June 22, 1969 is the most famous, and the last time the river burned, it was not the first. The Cuyahoga River had at least 12 documented fires, with the most fatal occurring in 1912. The Cuyahoga was not the only U.S. river to burn. The Buffalo River in Buffalo, NY, the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, PA, and the Rouge River in Detroit, MI also have recorded fires. The Chicago River caught fire in July 1888 and April 1899.
U.S. Senator from Wisconsin Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, came up with the idea for a national day to focus on the environment. Nelson reached across the aisle and persuaded Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey to serve as his co-chair. He also recruited Denis Hayes from Harvard as national coordinator. Hayes built a staff of 85 to promote events across the country. Hayes and his team did a phenomenal job, and on April 22, 1970 20 million Americans across the country rallied for a healthy, sustainable environment. At the time, this was 10% of the population of the United States.
Individual groups that had been fighting against power plants, raw sewage dumps, toxic waste, pesticides, oil spills, the loss of wilderness, the extinction of wildlife and more were united around shared values on Earth Day. By the end of 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency was formed, the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts were passed.
20 years later in 1990, Earth Day went global! 200 million people in 141 countries participated in events lifting environmental issues onto the world stage.
In 2000, the focus was on global warming and a push for clean energy. 5,000 environmental groups in 184 countries reached out to hundreds of millions of people. The message was clear – people all around the world wanted action on the environment.
In 2010 the Earth Day Network launched a Billion Acts of Green®. A Billion Acts of Green calls for people around the world to commit to at least one act of environmental service and to register it online. A Billion Acts of Green has surpassed it’s first 2 Billion Acts of Green and is on its way to 3 billion. Click here to act personally, locally, nationally or globally.
The theme for Earth Day 2020 is climate action. We all realize the importance of a healthy environment for our personal health and the health of our children, families and communities. Every action can make a difference. You don’t have to plant a forest to make a difference. Small steps like unplugging your chargers when not in use, to carrying reusable bags or planting a pollinator garden can all make a difference.
How are you celebrating Earth Day 2020?