When Is Earth Day?

Featured Article, Living Green, Seasonal, This Week in History, Traditions
on February 4, 2013

The world celebrates Earth Day on April 22. The Earth Day Network reports, “More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.” More than 190 countries engage in Earth Day celebrations, demonstrations and education. After more than 40 years, Earth Day continues to grow and make an impact worldwide for environmental awareness and action.

Earth Day history. Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, founded Earth Day in 1970. The horrific damage caused by a 1969 oil spill in California, plus the powerful student protest movement against the Vietnam War, served as inspiration for Nelson to spearhead what would become the largest environmental awareness movement in the world. He believed he could use the students’ passion, energy and desire for a better world to protest the destruction of the environment.

According to the Earth Day Network, an event such as Earth Day “would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.” Along with Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey, Nelson organized the first Earth Day as a “national teach-in on the environment.” It was a rare collaboration between both political parties.

The historic first Earth Day involved 20 million Americans who participated in rallies and demonstrations protesting the destruction of the environment. It was an outstanding success. The first Earth Day inspired the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and several important environmental acts, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act.

Choosing April 22. April 22, 1970, was not a random date selected for the first Earth Day. Kathleen Rogers, president of the Earth Day Network (founded originally by Nelson and the other first Earth Day organizers), says the date for Earth Day was selected partly because April 22 fell on a Wednesday. A rally and event as large as the first Earth Day needed to occur at the optimum time—midweek traditionally was the best for rallies. Rogers states, “It worked out perfectly, because everybody was at work and they all left.”

Equinox Earth Day. Peace activist John McConnell established the Equinox Earth Day. He proposed the idea in 1969, and the first Equinox Earth Day took place March 21, 1970, one month before Nelson’s Earth Day. McConnell’s Earth Day is celebrated on the spring equinox, which happens on March 19, 20 or 21 each year. The United Nations supports both the Equinox Earth Day in March and the April 22 Earth Day events.