Written by Clare Carlson, Grant Writing and Development

Earth Day has long been an important day for the world as individuals are able to come together to voice their concern for the state of the environment and work towards a more sustainable future. On this Earth Day 2021, we wanted to look into the history of Earth Day in order to understand the ways the day has changed over time and how early Earth Days can connect to Earth Day today. The first Earth Day, in 1970, gave a voice to the growing public consciousness of the state of our planet and human impact on it. Prior to the first Earth Day, Americans were consuming large amounts of fossil fuels through inefficient automobiles, industry was emitting harmful emissions without fear of the consequences, and air pollution was “commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity” (“The History of Earth Day”). The majority of Americans were oblivious to the negative environmental impacts of their lifestyles and how they would hurt future generations. 

Inspired by the disastrous 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara as well as student anti-war protests, Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed the idea for a teach-in on college campuses to maximize student engagement in environmental conversations. Leaders within the movement recognized its potential and promoted the event across the country– renaming it Earth Day. The first Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans (10% of the total population in the U.S. at the time) to take action against the impacts of over 150 years of industrial development. Groups that had been fighting individually against environmental disaster were able to unite around their shared values on Earth Day. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of their own environmental laws. In 1990, Earth Day went global and mobilized over 200 million people in 141 countries. This day gave a large boost to recycling efforts worldwide and further emphasized the global aspect of the climate crisis.  

Earth Day in 2000 was focused on global warming and a push for clean energy. Using the power of the Internet to organize activists all over the world, world leaders were sent the message that the world wanted quick and decisive action on climate change. Earth Day 2010 came during a challenging time for the environmental community as climate change deniers, oil lobbyists, a disinterested public, and reticent politicians were all hesitant to listen to and take action on climate change. Earth Day today is celebrated by over one billion people taking action to change human behavior and create local and global change. As climate change becomes more apparent each day, the fight for a clean environment inspired by Earth Day efforts becomes more important than ever. 

The social and cultural setting of the first Earth Day in 1970 is present day. A new generation of young people are refusing to settle for the ways of previous generations and are demanding new legislation and action to combat the climate crisis. Digital and social media platforms allow individuals all over the world to connect and converse about these issues. Protests, strikes, and mobilizations are accessible to a global audience and activists are uniting in their efforts against this challenge. The fight against climate change is becoming increasingly more difficult and increasingly more important. 

Earth Day is special because anyone anywhere can take actions to make a difference. So we at EGC challenge you to take action this Earth Day and complete a task to help save the environment. 

10 Things You Can Do this Earth Day: 

1. Go vegan for the day 

2. Organize a trash pickup in your neighborhood

3. Sign an environmental action petition 

4. Write to your local politicians demanding they support climate legislation 

5. Buy a reusable water bottle and stop using disposable plastic bottles 

6. Plant a tree or small garden at your house 

7. Spend time outside

8. Have difficult climate conversations with friends and family 

9. Go thrift shopping instead of buying fast fashion 

10. Support your local farmer’s market 

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