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The very first Earth Day

The very first Earth Day
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Earth Day first came into being on April 22, 1970, followed in 1972 by World Environment Day. It has been celebrated ever since, slowly but surely picking up steam as more and more people have recognised the importance of taking care of the earth.

Earth Day is now a global event

Earth Day is now a global event
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Earth Day remained a grassroots affair for 20 years, before going global and spreading out to 140 countries in 1990. It’s now celebrated in over 190 countries, with an estimated 1 billion people the world over participating each year.

Earth Day was the brainchild of US Governor Gaylord Nelson

Earth Day was the brainchild of US Governor Gaylord Nelson
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Gaylord Nelson, a two-term governor of Wisconsin in the US (1958 to 1962), was responsible for focusing his state’s environmental policy, establishing a single Department of Resource Development, a Youth Conservation Corps, and setting aside $50 million to buy land and convert it to parks and wilderness areas during the years he was in office. This earned him the nickname “Conservation Governor.” Nelson was then elected a US senator, where he became known as a champion for the earth.

Earth Day started as a teach-in for the environment

Earth Day started as a teach-in for the environment
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Frustrated by a lack of support for environmental policy among his fellow senators, but inspired by the various youth movements of the ’60s that were pushing hard for meaningful societal change, Nelson devised the idea of a teach-in for the environment in 1969. The plan was to drum up public support for the nascent environmental movement, with an eye toward engendering the political will to make change. Nelson’s idea was so popular that he had to hire an 85-person team to get the first Earth Day off the ground.

Even back in the 1950s and 1960s, the world needed Earth Day

Even back in the 1950s and 1960s, the world needed Earth Day
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We may think of man-made climate change as a recent development, but it’s a critical Earth Day fact: Even decades ago, the country was a polluted place in need of help. Public lands were dilapidated, factories were free to dump toxins into our waters, and industries could churn out pollutants into our air without regulation. As a result, species began collapsing – oysters, for example, were gone from New York Harbor by the early 20th century. Around the time of the first Earth Day in 1970, people were starting to realise that pollution and toxic waste could lead to cancer and other serious health issues.

 

10 percent of the US population celebrated the first Earth Day

10 percent of the US population celebrated the first Earth Day
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Nelson chose this date in the third week of April to appeal to his core demographic – students – and April 22 fell between their spring break and final exams. Enormous, inspirational rallies were held all over the country, with 20 million people – 10 percent of the US population at that time – taking to the streets.

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The first Earth Day spurred immediate action

The first Earth Day spurred immediate action
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The impact of that first Earth Day was immediate and profound; by December of 1970, President Richard Nixon had established the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act was devised and passed that year. Swiftly on their heels came the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, among other critical pieces of legislation.

Earth Day went global in 1990

Earth Day went global in 1990
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On the occasion of its 20th birthday in 1990, Earth Day’s organisers decided the time had come to take the movement global – 200 million people in 141 countries participated. The impacts of that day were enormous: it kicked off massive initiatives to recycle and paved the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

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The United Nations joined the celebration in 2000

The United Nations joined the celebration in 2000
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By the time of Earth Day’s 30th anniversary, coinciding with a brand-new millennium, Earth Day was being announced by the United Nations. “At the end of the 20th and the dawn of the 21st century, the human species had entered a new era where the nature of the entire planet was being fundamentally changed,” the international organisation said in a statement about the day. “Humankind was facing epidemics, massive holes in the ozone layer, and the change in global climate. In that context, it was necessary to have an informed citizenry, which would take a leadership role in pulling the political and economic forces in the right direction. It was time for a formidable shift, both at high and low levels. In the year 2000, a decision had been made to focus on energy and climate change.”

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Earth Day goes virtual

Earth Day goes virtual
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The year 2000 also marked the era when the Internet helped spread the message of the need for strong environmental policy far and wide. Being virtually connected allowed 5,000 environmental groups to find each other and coordinate their messaging. It allowed people from 184 countries to join in marches and demonstrations and acts of organising.

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