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History of Earth Day

For many, Earth Day is just another obscure holiday that pops up on their calendar and social media feed every April. For others, it is a chance to participate in a beach cleanup, reduce waste for a day, join a protest or reflect on our relationship with the environment. No matter what Earth Day means to you, it has impacted your life in some pretty incredible ways. To understand how, let’s travel back in time to the 1960s!

By the end of the 1960s, concern for our environment was at an all time high. Rachel Carson had just exposed the danger of chemicals such as DDT, a once common pesticide, through her book Silent Spring, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught on fire due to toxic waste (yes, a river was literally on fire), and a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara caught the nation’s attention ( Among this concerned group of citizens was Senator Gaylord Nelson. Inspired by the student anti-Vietnam War protests, Senator Nelson came up with the idea of environmental teach-ins across the country’s college campuses. The idea took off and he soon partnered with activist Dennis Hayes to organize the day, which was to land on April 22nd, 1970 ( This first Earth Day was a massive success and 20 million Americans participated in a range of organized events.

The premier of Earth Day played a massive role in US environmental policy. By the end of 1970, the US government established the Environmental Protection Agency and passed both the National Environmental Education Act and the Clean Air Act. Soon to follow would be the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act ( The impacts of the policies enacted in the early 1970’s as a result of mounting environmental concern and Earth Day protests continues to impact daily life for all of us today.

Since 1970, Earth Day has continued to have far reaching effects around the world. While none have made such a splash as the original, more than a billion people from all corners of the globe partake in the holiday. Today there are hundreds of organized Earth Day events, from celebrations to protests to seminars. Check out for some events happening near you!

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