What Earth Day Really Means, How It Started, And How It Helps

Earth Day is tomorrow, April 22. It’s the 45th anniversary of a lesser-known national event that many people don’t bother to celebrate. But with climate scientists compiling increasing amounts of evidence that the planet is in danger, Earth Day is perhaps more important now than ever. But Earth Day has been around longer than you might expect.

According to Live Science, Earth Day was proposed by a Wisconsin senator named Gaylord Nelson in 1970. The politician was inspired to start a national day of awareness for the planet after witnessing the devastation of a 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. The oil tainted much of the ocean and many of California’s beautiful shorelines. The oil spill was called the “ecological shot heard ’round the world” by the New York Times.

Nelson explained that the purpose of Earth Day was to teach the American populace about the importance of environmental conservation.

“I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the national political agenda.”

Gaylord Nelson was later given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bill Clinton.

“In establishing Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson helped us to recognize that our fragile environment was increasingly at peril and that each of us could make a difference,” said President Clinton. “His work has inspired all Americans to take responsibility for the planet’s well-being and for our children’s future.”

The first Earth Day ever, April 22 of 1970, was considered a massive success. According to MSNBC, as many as 20 million people took to the streets to celebrate the planet, leading the way for decades of festivals, eco-fairs, concerts, social movements, and wide-scale recycling efforts.

According to the Earth Day Network, the national event has since gone global and grown to unprecedented sizes. In 1990, more than 200 million people throughout 141 countries were said to have participated in Earth Day, and 184 countries participated in the year 2000. Since then, the Earth Day Network has gained over 900,000 members to their community and has a long line of success stories to tell–including a recent initiative in collaboration with James Cameron to plant one million trees and the 40 million acts of environmental service that have been carried out for the “A Billion Acts of Green” initiative.

Despite Earth Day’s success, roughly 42 percent of Americans claim climate change is either untrue or exaggerated and almost half of them don’t believe environmental protection is a high priority.

“Climate change deniers, well-funded oil lobbyists, reticent politicians, a disinterested public, and a divided environmental community all contributed to a strong narrative that overshadowed the cause of progress and change,” the Earth Day Network reports.

But that doesn’t mean this year’s Earth Day won’t be a huge success. Are you participating in the global effort to protect the planet?

[Image courtesy of Getty Images]