Tracing The Origins Of Earth Day Celebrations

Earth Day is celebrated each year as a reminder to help protect the planet.

What Is Earth Day?

On April 22, over 193 countries around the world celebrate Earth Day by showing support for protecting the environment. The Earth Day Network coordinates these events as well as other environmental projects around the globe. At a local level, various communities organize week-long projects aimed at public awareness of environmental issues, conservation, and sustainability. This article takes a closer look at the history of Earth Day and how it has been celebrated over the years.

The First Earth Day Celebrations

John McConnell, a peace activist, was the first person to suggest a day to celebrate Earth and peace. He presented his idea at the San Francisco UNESCO Conference in 1969, proposing that the first Earth Day be held on March 21, 1970 - the first day of spring for countries north of the equator. The date was agreed upon and signed as a proclamation on that day by the Secretary General of the United Nations.

US Senator Gaylord Nelson of the state of Wisconsin organized and managed an environmental teach-in on April 22, 1970, just one month later. The event was held across hundreds of communities, 2 thousand colleges and universities, and tens of thousands of primary and secondary schools in the US. Records indicate that around 20 million residents participated in the day, showing their support for environmental reform in the country.

This event is most commonly known as the first Earth Day and Nelson is most commonly credited with being its founder. In fact, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his efforts toward environmental awareness.

Earth Day In 1990 - 20 Year Anniversary

Dennis Hayes, an Earth Day organizer, helped move this day of observation to the international arena. In 1990, thanks to his efforts, Earth Day was celebrated in 141 countries by around 200 million individuals. Its theme was centered on the importance of recycling. By this year, the Earth Day event had grown to involve million-dollar budgets, topnotch marketing, and wider access to TV and news exposure. It was planned by 2 organizations: Earth Day 1990, run by Dennis Hayes, and Earth Day 20 Foundation, run by Edward Furia. Gaylord Nelson sat as chairman of both groups.

Each organization took a different approach to fundraising. Earth Day 1990 chose direct mail and email marketing, while Earth Day 20 chose a grassroots approach. Both held events across the country and Warner Bros. Records even became involved by producing and releasing a one-time single called “Tomorrow’s World”. This global public awareness campaign helped set the stage for the Rio de Janeiro UN Earth Summit of 1992.

The Equinox Earth Day

As previously mentioned, the very first Earth Day was held on March 21, 1970 in honor of the northern hemisphere spring equinox and southern hemisphere autumn equinox. Then-mayor of San Francisco, Joseph Alioto, declared the day an observable holiday across the city and several other cities followed suit. These communities held celebrations in various neighborhoods to raise environmental awareness. This United Nations Earth Day, also known as the Equinox Earth Day, has been celebrated on each equinox since its inception in 1970. It has been revered and celebrated by several political figures, including Margaret Mead, Kurt Waldheim, and U Thant. Traditionally, the day has been started by ringing the Japanese Peace Bell, a gift from Japan to the UN. Today, several cities around the world ring a bell to mark the equinox.


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