Here at Ohio Energy Project, every single day is Earth Day. But since the official celebration of Earth Day is just around the corner—this Thursday, April 22nd to be exact—we wanted to kick off this planetary party with a look back at the history of the holiday. With over 50 years of celebrating, there was quite a bit to dig into. So, sit back, relax, and get ready to get curious.
The first celebration of Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970. In the years surrounding the launch of Earth Day, many Americans were largely unaware of the effects of pollution on their environment. According to the official Earth Day website, during these years “air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity” (The History of Earth Day 2021). As industry was booming and technology was advancing, pollution was on the rise and it wasn’t until an author by the name of Rachel Carson published her book Silent Spring in 1962 that Americans began making the connection between pollution and public health (The History of Earth Day 2021).
As more Americans became aware of this looming pollution threat and a horrific 1969 fire on Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River made headlines, Senator Gaylord Nelson and activist Denis Hayes worked together to organize a teach-in on college campuses on April 22nd (Earth Day 2021 2019). This idea gained major traction not only within higher education institutions but also amongst organizations large and small across America. The teach-in quickly became known as Earth Day and inspired 20 million Americans to act in solidarity against the deterioration of the environment (The History of Earth Day 2021).
That first Earth Day was such a success that it inspired political unity and led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency as well as numerous other federal environmental laws and regulations. Before then, there were “no legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment” (Environmental Protection Agency 2021). In 1990—20 years after the first celebration—Earth Day hit the global stage with over 200 million people from over 141 countries working together to combat environmental issues (The History of Earth Day 2021). Seeing such success, President Bill Clinton awarded the original activist organizing Earth Day, Denis Hayes, with a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work (The History of Earth Day 2021).
But Hayes did not stop there! In 2000, Hayes worked alongside over 5,000 environmental groups to engage hundreds of millions of people across 184 countries in discussions on and actions relating to climate change and clean energy (The History of Earth Day 2021). That work still continues today with billions of people every year engaging in collaborative work to address environmental issues at the local, regional, national, and global level.
Today, many activists push beyond Earth Day and celebrate Earth Week to engage even more people around the world in environmental action (Earth Day 2021 2019). We at OEP celebrate Earth Year with a special set of activities to correspond with Earth Day every April. If you’re a teacher and want to engage your classroom in some Earth Day fun, check out some of our free resources at: https://ohioenergy.org/educators/energy-for-kids/earth-day-2021.
Not a teacher but still interested in celebrating? We’ve got you covered. Below is a list of ideas to get you started on your sustainability journey this Earth Day!
- Plant some native plants
- Did you know April is Ohio Native Plant Month?! Check out some of these awesome resources to beautify your garden and our environment.
- Make a bug hotel
- Start a compost bin
No matter how you plan to celebrate, we hope you’ll join OEP on April 22nd for a day of celebration for this beautiful home we call Earth.
Earth Day 2021. History.com. (2009, October 27). https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/earth-day.
Environmental Protection Agency. (2021, April 15). EPA History: Earth Day. EPA. https://www.epa.gov/history/epa-history-earth-day.
The History of Earth Day. Earth Day. (2021, April 1). https://www.earthday.org/history/.