How did April 22 become Earth Day?

Apr 22, 2024, 6:28 PM | Updated: Apr 23, 2024, 2:12 pm

Volunteers gather at Pedal and Pick at Jordan Park in Salt Lake City to celebrate earth day...

Volunteers gather at Pedal and Pick at Jordan Park in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 20, 2024. Pedal and Pick is a bike ride and cleanup that covered five miles of the Jordan River Trail and was organized by Salt Lake City Public Lands to celebrate Earth Day. (Megan Nielsen/Deseret News)

(Megan Nielsen/Deseret News)

EARTH — Each year, on April 22, people across the world take part in Earth Day discussions and events. Each of them is an effort to care for the environment. 

But, how did Earth Day start? 

Gaylord Nelson, a former U.S. Senator and Gov. of Wisconsin, had the idea in 1969. According to Nelson’s Earth Day,  the idea came to him following a trip to California to view the aftermath of the Santa Barbara oil spill. 

After his trip, he learned about a series of anti-Vietnam War teach-ins that were happening on college campuses. Professors and students had organized them. 

The teach-ins inspired Nelson according to EarthDay.org. At the time, the public was only just becoming familiar with the ideas of air and water pollution. 

Nelson thought that if colleges across the country held teach-ins on the same day, lawmakers in Washington, D.C. might pay attention. 

He proposed the idea in two speeches. The idea caught on. Newspapers began printing the story.

Then, on November 11, 1969, Nelson announced the date for the first event. April 22 was chosen for its placement between college spring breaks and finals weeks, so that participation could be maximized, according to EarthDay.org.

Initially, it was called the “National Teach-In on the Crisis of the Environment,” according to Nelson’s Earth Day.  

20 million participants led to a worldwide event

EarthDay.org said that 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums on April 22, 1970. They demonstrated against the negative impacts that industrialized development had inflicted on human and environmental health. 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency was formed by the end of 1970. EarthDay.org said that it also led to the passage of “first-of-their-kind” environmental laws.

As events continued in the following years, more countries began to participate in the April 22 effort. 

According to National Geographic, the first organized global Earth Day occurred in 1990. It was organized by Denis Hayes. He had helped Nelson organize the first U.S. Earth Day in 1970 when he was a graduate student at Harvard University. 

Over 200 million people from 140 countries participated in the first global Earth Day. 

Related: Jennie and Brent Taylor family will dedicate “mini-farm” on Earth Day

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How did April 22 become Earth Day?