History of Earth Day

Making a Difference

With its gravity, oxygen and position in the solar system, Earth is mere perfection. Other planets are too cold, too violent, too close to the sun. Earth has the perfect mix of natural resources to support life. Water, carbon, even salt - Earth boasts all the necessities.

There really is no Plan B, not yet at least. This world is all we have. Earth Day is a day to recognize the richness of our planet and, as its trustees, what kind of improvements we should make.

Like most great movements, Earth Day tapped into a growing awareness and need for change. It was 1970, a time when young voices grew louder and expected to be heard.  

Most credit U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson with the concept of Earth Day, driven to take action after slick black sludge slowly spread through the waters of Santa Barbara, California from a breach in an offshore oil rig. Almost 3 million gallons of oil would eventually gush into the blue waters of the Pacific. Birds were identified by their dark silhouette. Fish floated in a sea of black milky clouds. It was an ecological nightmare.

Senator Nelson took a stand.

That year, Nelson would lead a bipartisan effort and build a coalition of intellectuals, activists, scientists, organizations and concerned citizens. Twenty million individuals participated in rallies throughout the United States, in the streets of big cities and small towns, and across university campuses. Political leadership, under pressure from the evening news and page one headlines, would combine forces and pass legislative action. New oversight, increased regulation and broader awareness would become a beneficial byproduct of the grassroots effort.

Earth Day would be responsible for creating the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). From the EPA came the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act. There was a tangible shift in society’s consciousness. Citizens, from all walks of life, understood that their blue planet was in trouble.

In 1990, Earth Day would go global - 200 million people in 141 countries now working towards the same effort - clean water and clean air. Countries aligned on a new environmental mission, adopting laws with real teeth.  

Earth Day 2000 would focus on global warming and clean energy. The Canopy Project would be born, a global tree planting initiative that continues today, geared toward reforestation, with millions of trees planted.   

What other environmental milestones have come from increased environmental awareness introduced by Earth Day? Too many to count. From the regulation of pesticides to the protection of the whales to the 1997 Climate Agreement, much has been accomplished in the shadow of Earth Day.

There are many ways to recognize Earth Day and do your part - without a big sweeping gesture. Lawns require more energy, water -  and even oil and gas to maintain - so consider building a pond or a water feature, there are options suited to every lifestyle. A pond will provide a water source and resting spot for local wildlife, attracting butterflies and hummingbirds to its banks. Pond maintenance is necessary for a healthy ecosystem - and 21st century technology omits the need for harmful chemicals.

Or just be aware of simple things - recycle, reuse, reclaim whenever possible. Every choice makes a difference. Imagine if we each did our part?