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Five Things You Need to Know About Earth Day

Learn who started Earth Day and why we celebrate it on April 22.

Five Things You Need to Know About Earth Day

Today marks the 43rd annual Earth Day, a celebration that began in 1970 as a protest movement against pollution. Here are five facts about why we go green every April 22.

1. We have late U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-WI) to thank for the official Earth Day celebration. But many credit John McConnell, an activist who proposed the day at a National UNESCO Conference in 1969, with founding Earth Day. While McConnell’s earlier Earth Day Proclamation received support from top United Nations officials, Nelson's work to have national teach-ins on April 22, 1970, spurred the national movement that became known as Earth Day. Both men commonly are referred to as Earth Day’s founder.

2. Nelson’s push for Earth Day stemmed from years of frustration that environmental concerns were not a national conversation. Nelson looked to the anti-Vietnam War movement for inspiration. The first Earth Day was a series of teach-ins nationwide that mimicked the era’s war protests. About 20 million people participated across the United States.

3. Earth Day was immediately popular—almost too popular for some. Vietnam War protesters soon complained that the environmental movement marginalized war protests on college campuses and in media coverage.

4. Earth Day’s date, April 22, doesn’t have any particular significance. An enduring myth holds that the movement’s creators picked the day in honor of Soviet Union founder Vladimir Lenin because he, allegedly like early environmentalists, wanted to destroy private property. In reality, founders picked the date because it fell on a Wednesday, a day when more people would be at work and school and able to participate in teach-ins.

5. Earth Day celebrations went worldwide in 1990. That year, about 140 countries marked the day. Today, more than 1 billion people in about 185 countries are expected to celebrate Earth Day.

This feature also appeared on Patch during Earth Day last year. 

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