Some see it as that “hippie holiday” that doesn’t even really exist (in other words: “Bring out the 4-wheelers, baby!) and some parts of the U.S. know it as that day in which our power gets shut off for an hour, but do you really know the origin and meaning of Earth Day?
The official entry on Wikipedia says that, “Earth Day is an annual event, celebrated on April 22, on which events worldwide are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It was first celebrated in 1970, and is now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network, and celebrated in more than 193 countries each year.”
In 1969 at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honor the Earth and the concept of peace, and it would be celebrated on March 21, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere.
Unbeknownst to McConnell, back in 1968, Morton Hilbert and the U.S. Public Health Service organized the Human Ecology Symposium, an environmental conference for students to hear from scientists about the effects of environmental degradation on human health.
For the next two years, Hilbert, with the help of several students, worked on a plan for the first Earth Day, and in April 1970—along with a federal proclamation from U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who was seeking a way to stage an environmental “teach-in”—their plan became a reality.
Nelson was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his work. Not really a surprise that a U.S. Senator took the credit…
That first official “holiday” saw celebrations in over two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States. According to Jack Lewis, “[the first Earth Day] brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform.”
An organization later launched by Denis Hayes, who was the original national coordinator in 1970, brought Earth Day to international attention in 1990 and organized events in 141 nations.
As the millennium approached, organizers made the focus of Earth Day 200 to be on global warming and the push for clean energy (which was a total success). That year’s Earth Day combined the big-picture “feistiness” of the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990.
A few years later, Earth Day 2007 became one of the largest in history, with many people participating in the activities in thousands of places including Kiev, Ukraine; Caracas, Venezuela; Tuvalu; Manila, Philippines; Togo; Madrid, Spain; London, and New York.
It wasn’t until 2012’s Earth Day that the focus was returned to human overpopulation and the perceived impending epidemic of famine and starvation.
Just remember, the next time you’re looking out into that big, beautiful, complicated world that we all share, the simple gesture of turning off an extra lamp can go a long way (according to some).