History of Earth Day

Courtesy of NREL, credit: Warren Gretz. Founded by Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, the first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970. Concerned by an oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California in 1969, Sen. Nelson thought a national environmental “teach-in” at universities across the United States would inspire Congress to pass important environmental legislation. Senator Nelson said, “I am convinced that all we need to do to bring an overwhelming insistence of the new generation that we stem the tide of environmental disaster is to present the facts clearly and dramatically.”

The first Earth Day gained the support of over 20 million people, and Sen. Nelson credited the success to numerous grassroots efforts of colleges and communities throughout the U.S. Though Earth Day was originally a local event that aimed to increase environmental awareness and inspire action, it’s now observed in over 175 countries each year on April 22, and has helped raise awareness on urgent environmental issues throughout the world. In 2009, the United Nations designated April 22 as “International Mother Earth Day.”

The Earth Day Network, a nonprofit that raises awareness about environmental and energy issues and the importance of Earth Day, along with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) list events that you can attend throughout the nation on April 22. You can find out more about local events happening in your area on Earth Day by visiting either the EPA Earth Day website or the Earth Day Network website. Both websites also list resources for people to find out how to protect the environment by participating in conservation efforts at home, in their community, at work, or at school.

To find out more about Gaylord Nelson and the history of Earth Day click here.