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Earth Day - How Did It All Begin?

April 2015

By WeatherBug Sr. Meteorologist, John Bateman


Today is the 45th anniversary of Earth Day! That`s right, the very first Earth Day was officially held way back on April 22, 1970... but the idea for a national day of recognition for the environment came several years earlier.

The man with the plan was Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin, and his goal was to bring attention to the state of the land, rivers, lakes, and air. Senator Nelson was an environmental activist who first brought the idea of a national conservation tour to the Kennedy administration in the early 1960s. The President liked the idea and began an eleven-state tour in 1963, but it ultimately failed to put the environment into the political spotlight.

Years later, Senator Nelson got the idea of making a national Earth Day after seeing the effect anti-Vietnam "teach-ins" had at college campuses across the country. A light-bulb went off and he thought, "Why not start a grassroots protest over the abuse and neglect of the environment?" While at a conference in Seattle, he announced his idea of setting up a day in spring to demonstrate on behalf of the Earth`s health.

Wire news services carried the idea from coast-to-coast and in response, letters, telegrams, and phone calls came pouring into his office. That following year, 1970, on April 22, Earth Day officially kicked off with more than 20 million demonstrators and thousands of schools participating from across the country - all in an age before Twitter and Facebook. The remarkable turnout led the Senator to say, "It organized itself."

One question that gets posed often is why April 22nd was selected as Earth Day. The answer has several reasons, and it mainly had to do with finding a convenient day for it. Senator Nelson wanted a day that was good for most college students as they were a big drive behind the movement. The date generally did not fall during spring break or exam time. It also didn`t fall during any major religious holidays that year and it was late enough in spring that the weather would usually be pleasant in much of the country. And in 1970, April 22nd fell on a Wednesday, when most students would be on campus and when Earth Day wouldn`t compete with weekend events. The day stuck and it has been celebrated on that day ever since.

Earth Day may be turning 45 this year but it did not become an international movement until 1990. In 2000, the internet became its primary organizing tool and celebrities enlisted to become hosts. Now Earth Day is coordinated globally by an Earth Day Network and is celebrated in more than 190 countries and by 500 million people annually. All because of a dedicated man with a vision to help the Earth.


Story image: An Earth Day booth at San Diego City College. Courtesy of Johntex and Wikimedia Commons.

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