As you recover from your crazy 4/20 shenanigans, it’s time to prepare for the next day of commemoration: Earth Day. Celebrated annually on April 22, for many people, the day is just another normal day. Maybe instead of walking passed that candy wrapper blowing in the wind, you remember that it’s Earth Day, and throw it in a trash can. However, many people worked hard to get April 22 recognized as a day to honor our home planet. So, on this Throwback Thursday, let’s look back at how Earth Day has evolved into what it is today.
The idea of setting aside a day each year to appreciate the Earth was first brought up by John McConnell, who was a peace activist. McConnell suggested the idea in 1969 at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco. This day of honoring the Earth and promoting peace took place on March 21, 1970, which was the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. Wait a minute, that’s a month before the day that we know. What gives?
Enter Senator Gaylord Nelson. Just a month later from McConnell’s Earth Day, Nelson created his own concept of the day, the purpose of which would be a teach-in where people of all ages could learn about the Earth. This teach-in took place, of course, on April 22. In 1970, however, and for 20 years afterwards, Earth Day was just celebrated in the United States. It was Denis Hayes’ idea to take this day internationally. So, in 1990, Hayes coordinated events in 141 countries. As you can see, it took several people to turn Earth Day into what it is today.
How was the first Earth Day in 1970 celebrated? Since it was originally marketed as a teach-in, thousands of primary schools and universities were the main participants, but communities across the country organized their own events, too. Some of the bigger cities in the US, like New York and Philadelphia, had the biggest celebrations.
In New York City, the mayor at the time, John Lindsay, agreed to shut down the busy Fifth Avenue so that participants in the Earth Day festivities could congregate there. Lindsay also agreed to let those involved use Central Park to hold events. With all this space, more than a million people came out to honor the Earth, making it one of the largest celebrations of Earth Day in the nation for that year.
With the success of Earth Day events in the United States, 1990 was the first year that everyone around the world recognized the day. This was perfect timing because it got people geared up for the UN Earth Summit, which took place two years later. Although the technology available back then wasn’t much compared to what we have today, the radio and TV access that they did have helped promote the cause.
Two separate groups formed to spread the message around the world: The Earth Day 20 Foundation and Earth Day 1990. Although there were disagreements between the two groups, Senator Nelson was, appropriately, the honorary chairman for both. The most remarkable event that was a part of the 20th Earth Day were Peace Climbs to the summit of Mt. Everest. Climbers from the US, Soviet Union and China reached the top together. Appropriately, more than two tons of trash from previous expeditions was cleaned up.
Compared to climbing Mt. Everest, your Earth Day celebration of picking up some trash on the sidewalk seems minuscule, but it isn’t. The important part is that something, no matter the scale, is being done to help the Earth.