By Kevin Boon

Every year on April 22, Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.


Senator Gaylord Nelson, a junior senator from Wisconsin, had long been concerned about the deteriorating environment in the United States.  Then in January 1969, he and many others witnessed the ravages of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California.  Inspired by the student anti-war movement, Senator Nelson wanted to infuse the energy of student anti-war protests with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution. Senator Nelson announced the idea for a teach-in on college campuses to the national media, and persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman, to serve as his co-chair.  They recruited Denis Hayes, a young activist, to organize the campus teach-ins and they choose April 22, a weekday falling between Spring Break and Final Exams, to maximize the greatest student participation. 

Hayes built a national staff of 85 to promote events across the land and the effort soon broadened to include a wide range of organizations, faith groups, and others.  They changed the name to Earth Day, which immediately sparked national media attention, and caught on across the country.  Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans — at the time, 10% of the total population of the United States — to take to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate against the impacts of 150 years of industrial development which had left a growing legacy of serious human health impacts. Various environmental groups united on Earth Day around these shared common values. 

By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other groundbreaking environmental laws. Such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.


As 1990 approached, a group of environmental leaders approached Denis Hayes to once again organize another major campaign for the planet. This time, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. 


As the millennium approached, Hayes agreed to spearhead another campaign, this time focused on global heating and a push for clean energy. With 5,000 environmental groups in a record 184 countries reaching out to hundreds of millions of people, Earth Day 2000 built both global and local conversations, leveraging the power of the internet to organize activists around the world.


Earth Day 2010 came at a time of great challenge for the environmental community to combat the cynicism of climate change deniers, well-funded oil lobbyists, reticent politicians, a disinterested public, and a divided environmental community. In the face of these challenges, Earth Day prevailed and earthday.org re-established Earth Day as a major moment for global action for the environment.


Earthday.org has brought hundreds of millions of people into the environmental movement. It is widely recognised as the largest secular observance in the world, now marked by more than an estimated billion people, as a day of action to change human behaviour and create global, national and local policy changes. The fight for a clean environment continues with increasing urgency, as the ravages of climate breakdown become more and more apparent. In the last few years we have seen the rise of global movements Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future and in the U.S. The Sunrise Movement. Disillusioned by the low level of ambition following the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015 and frustrated with international environmental lethargy, citizens of the world are rising up to demand far greater action for our planet and its people. 

Earthday.org is all about empowering individuals with the information, the tools, the messaging and the communities needed to make an impact and drive change.

Each Earth Day has a theme and this year it’s #RestoreOurEarth. The Global Environment Facility is highlighting nine new initiatives implementing nature-based solutions for a #GreenBlueRecovery. 

Take this Earth Day to challenge yourself to minimise your impact on the planet even if it’s just for the day. It will get you in the mindset for change and you may realise how much better you feel. Work out your footprint with a carbon calculator, cycle to walk rather than walk, try that vegetarian meal using ingredients sourced locally, minimise the use of lights and appliances, think about the environmental impact of your employer and move your money into more sustainable investments. You might also feel inspired to take action to defend mother earth and her at-risk communities. There are many activist groups so chances are there’s one out there that will suit you. In the news at the moment is the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill so give it your support by writing to your MP.