Earth Day is celebrated in 192 countries to inspire action to protect the life support systems of the Earth.
The first Earth Day was celebrated in the US on April 22, 1970.
At that time, untreated waste was dumped on the land, in the water or released into the air, whatever was most convenient. Air pollution was accepted as the ‘smell of money’.
A few voices raised concerns about the damage to the environment but they were largely ignored.
This was also the time of social protest of the Vietnam War and social inequality.
Gaylord Nelson, a Democratic Senator was inspired to action after seeing the results of an oil spill in California. He decided to use the energy of the protesters to call for action on environmental damage.
He persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman to join him for a day of public education and call to action. They hired Denis Hayes to promote the event. April 22 was chosen as it was between spring break and final exams for university students.
Earth Day 1970 is described as a rare working together of Republicans and Democrats and people from all walks of life: rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders.
By the end of 1970 the American government passed the Clean Air, Clean Water Act , the Endangered Species Act and established the Environmental Protection Agency.
“It was a gamble,” Gaylord recalled, “but it worked.”
Earth Day became a worldwide event in 1990. The focus has changed over the years. Recycling was important in the 1990’s. Climate change is the main concern since the early 2000’s.
Earth Day will be 50 years old in 2020.