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A History of Earth Day

Ever wonder how Earth Day got started?

A History of Earth Day


Today, billions of people around the world celebrate Earth Day on April 22. Do you wonder why?

The first official Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, but the seed was planted several years earlier. Earth Day was started by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson as a way to put the environmental concerns of the 1960’s and 70’s on the political agenda.

Some of the highlights, according to History.com, of Earth Day’s Historic Timeline include:

June 4, 1916: Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson was born in Clear Lake, Wisconsin. 

1962: Rachel Carson publishes Silent Spring. The best seller was about the potential dangers and consequences of widespread pesticide use.

1963: Senator Nelson accompanied President John F. Kennedy on a speaking tour around the U.S. to raise awareness about environmental issues.

1969: Inspired by the "teach-ins" held by Vietnam War protestors on U.S. college campuses, Senator Gaylord Nelson announced his idea for Earth Day. It would be "a large-scale, grassroots demonstration against the degradation of America's natural resources."

April 22, 1970: 20 million people participated in inaugural Earth Day activities around the United States.

December 1970: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was established by President Richard Nixon "in order to protect human health and safeguard the natural environment— air, water and land." 

1971: Environmental activist organization Greenpeace was founded. 

1972: Congress passes the Clean Water Act, which limits pollutants in rivers, lakes and streams.

1973: Congress passes the Endangered Species Act to protect animals and their ecosystems.

1990: The 20th anniversary Earth Day celebrations went global, with participants in over 140 countries.

1995: Gaylord Nelson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in honor of his environmental work. 

2000: Hundreds of millions of people in 184 countries celebrate the 30th anniversary of Earth Day, with a focus on "clean energy."

July 3, 2005: Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson died at age 89. 

2010: In honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day a Climate Rally and Concert was held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

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