Earth Day, which is held every April 22, is a day celebrated worldwide in appreciation of nature and awareness of how humans contribute to its destruction. Originated in the United States, Earth Day is now observed around the world, every year, with millions of participants doing their own ways to help nature.
U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson and his Grassroots Campaign
Earth Day began in 1969 when former U.S. senator Gaylord Nelson witnessed the 1969 oil spill, which prompted him to work on a way to encourage political support for various environmental programs. Nelson then called for an environmental conference in April 22, to be named “the Earth Day.” Nelson believed Earth Day should focus on local communities doing simple actions that could help the environment even for a day.
The Birth of Denis Hayes’ Environmental Advocacy
When Nelson’s grassroots campaign began to hold ground, the news of an upcoming nature awareness event reached the front page of New York Times and encouraged more people to join, including a Harvard graduate student named Denis Hayes who traveled to Washington to join Nelson’s cause.
Eager to help for the Earth Day, Denis Hayes met with Gaylord Nelson and was asked to drop out of Harvard to organize the United States. From then on, Hayes became an active environmental advocate and joined 20 million Americans participate in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. That same day, thousands of college students protested against oil spills, power plants, toxic dumps, raw sewage, pesticides, air pollution and other environmental issues.
The Reason New York’s 5th Avenue Closes During Earth Day
Students Kristin and William Hubbard, Pete Grannis and Fred Kent led the New York City part of the organization. The group of students was responsible for making NYC mayor Lindsay agree to close down 5th Avenue for Earth Day. Because of this, over a million people joined the event in New York alone, making the city one of the largest crowds to gather for the first Earth Day ever. It also paved the way for various media outlets to witness the event, since Newsweek, ABC, CBS, NBC, Time and The New York Times are all located in New York.
Philadelphia and the Earth Week
The 1970 Earth Day inspired a group of students, businessmen, professionals and environmental organizations to celebrate Earth Week, an entire week dedicated to environmental awareness held every year from April 16 to 22. Although the Earth Week Committee of Philadelphia was born after Gaylord Nelson’s campaign, committee leaders Edward Furia and Austan Librach believed a day for environmental awareness is not enough to discuss important issues. The week-long event includes educational activities that raise public awareness on problems people face about the environment and how to solve these issues.
In 2010, the Earth Week Committee encouraged other cities to extend Earth Day to a whole week. Most of these cities now observe Earth Week from April 16 to April 22.
The Earth Day Network and Worldwide Participants
Since the 1970 Earth Day, recycling efforts have doubled worldwide. It also resulted to the 1992 U.N. Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro. By 1990, 200 million participants in 141 countries help spread the word about environmental issues. Two organizations – one led by Denis Hayes (Earth Day 1990) and the other by Edward Furia (Earth Day 20 Foundation) – sponsored the events in the 1990 Earth Day. Original Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson was the honorary chairman for both organizations.
In Earth Day 2010, 1.5 billion people observed the event in around 175 countries. Earth Day is now coordinated yearly by non-profit organization Earth Day Network (founded by Denis Hayes).