Once an obscure celebration marked mostly by activists, Earth Day assumes a more traditional role on the calendar each year, as celebrations are held around the world in support of the protection of our planet. In fact, few would object that the environmental movement continues growing more mainstream, as individuals and businesses realize the benefits of recycling and keeping a clean planet.
This year’s celebration of Earth Day on the traditional April 22 date will again serve as a time dedicated to organizing local clean-up efforts, conducting educational seminars, and otherwise enjoying natural resources.
Here is a look at five pieces of trivia concerning this day in support of planet Earth.
1. Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970
Whether a commemoration for the cornerstone on a towering skyscraper, or the precise moment of your first kiss, nearly everything has a real (or symbolic) anniversary on the calendar. Though it took quite a few millennia to gather steam, the idea took hold that Earth should have such a day too. A 1969 United Nations environmental conference first chose March 21, 1970 for taking time to appreciate peace on the planet. As the movement gained attention, however, others believed linking a celebration to the start of spring could allow its importance to be overshadowed.
Instead, the nonprofit group Earth Day Network was formed for the purpose of promoting April 22, 1970 as the initial Earth Day. Coordinated presentations on conservation and nature were organized at thousands of universities and schools across the United States. New York City even closed Fifth Avenue and made Central Park available for celebrations. The concept was a hit and its goals expanded rapidly, as countless events continue to use April 22 to pay tribute to the potential of our planet.
2. Sen. Gaylord Nelson considered the father of Earth Day
Though many were responsible for the activism that resulted in the first Earth Day in 1970, nobody enjoyed greater influence on the day’s development than Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. Following four years as the Badger State’s governor, Nelson served three terms in the Senate in Washington, beginning with his initial election in 1963. The World War 2 veteran championed many liberal causes, but none possessed the fervor of his passion for the environment.
Nelson boosted the creation of Earth Day by working with Earth Day Network founder Denis Hayes to coordinate efforts for the planet’s big day. The Senator is credited with selecting April 22 for the date’s placement in pleasant early spring, its non-conflict with other holidays like Easter, and the tendency for college classes being in session. In fact, the first Earth Day was centered around “teach-ins,” which Nelson supported. The Senator further issued a proclamation for the first Earth Day and served as president of the Wilderness Society following his time in the Senate.
3. Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Water Act among early triumphs
As the United States’ economy dominated the 20th century, it was largely left to states to police the actions of businesses within their own borders. Sadly, with limited funding and constant competition to promote industry, many missteps were overlooked. With the rise of problems like smog and polluted drinking water, many leaders realized stricter regulation was needed. And the rise of the Earth Day movement coincided perfectly with this awareness, which finally provided impetus for change.
Less than a year after the first Earth Day, President Richard Nixon proposed the United States Environmental Protection Agency and Congress quickly moved to create the agency. The EPA runs under the presidency and has authority to protect the country’s natural resources across the fruited plain. The early Earth Day movement additionally aided landmark 1972 legislation to ensure America’s water sources remained safe for drinking, as well as other beneficial uses like irrigation and recreation. The Clean Water Act not only limited pollution, but was responsible for the clean-up of decades of waste.
4. Earth Day 20 provides renewed momentum in 1990
Though the tradition of Earth Day continued into the 1980s, many realized the movement required an injection of energy upon reaching its 20th birthday. Organizers responded to this need by creating Earth Day 20 on April 22, 1990. Promoted by many of the same leaders involved in the initial celebration, the effort expanded the reach of Earth Day internationally. Following the introduction of Earth Day festivities in Canada in 1980, it only made sense to think globally, since the day’s very naming recognizes the cause of the entire planet.
Earth Day 20 coordinated celebrations in dozens of countries around the world. Many activities were highlighted by the participation of artists and musicians. One event even included a satellite phone call from hikers at the summit of Mount Everest. Earth Day 20 was further significant for its outreach to corporate sponsors not only for financial contributions, but to attain promises of doing business in an Earth-friendly manner.
5. Mission continues, but definite successes realized
Debates on global warming, energy extraction, rising seas, and climate change continue to dominate headlines, indicating the effort of protecting Earth’s resources is alive and well. Though work remains, Earth Day 2014 is a perfect time to recall the many successes intertwined with the holiday’s legacy. The recycling movement, elimination of leaded gas, safe removal of asbestos, protection of endangered species, and reduction of air pollution are all definite accomplishments of the past 44 years.
Perhaps nothing remains more critical than stopping the grave harm from toxic waste. In 1970, the unregulated disposal of such materials into landfills and rivers was fairly routine.The attitudes of people — and industry — have completely changed, as law codified properly handling such byproducts. And the Earth Day movement proved this change can be a coordinated global effort. The 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants targeted the dumping of toxic waste. With the support of 172 countries, the treaty addressed handling of twelve of the most lethal industrial chemicals to better protect Earth and, even more importantly, its residents.