The History Of Earth Day And How We Can Celebrate It

On April 22nd, Earth Day commemorates the birth of modern environmental movement in 1970. Let’s look at how the movement has evolved over the past 50 years:

Where Did Earth Day Originate?

Up until the very first Earth Day, we (as humans) consumed vast amounts of leaded gas through large and inefficient automobiles. The automobile industry belched out smoke, sludge and oil without any concern for legal consequences, reputational damage and last but definitely not least – environmental damage. Until this point, mainstream society was largely unaware of the dangers of pollution and how polluted air threatens human health. 

However, in 1962, Rachel Carson, New York Times bestselling author, changed everything. She began depicting the effects of air pollution has on our environment and the consequences we may face. As it raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, ecological matters and the inextricable link between pollution and public health, the book constituted a watershedding moment, selling more than 500 000 copies in 24 countries.

By 1970, Earth Day had become a manifestation of this burgeoning environmental consciousness, putting environmental concerns on the forefront. 

The Rise Of Earth Day

In January 1969, Senator Gaylord Nelson, Wisconsins’s junior senator, and many others, witnessed the horrors of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. While inspired by the anti-war protests by students in the state, Senator Nelson wanted to infuse the energies of student anti-war protests with the emerging public awareness of water and air pollutants. Senator Nelson then launched his idea for a teach-in on college campuses, and persuaded conservation-minded Republican Congressman, Pete McCloskey, to serve as his co-chairman for the initiative.

Earth Day

Students chose April 22, a weekday falling between Spring Break (Northern Hemisphere) and final exams, to take part in the campus teach-ins. Recognising its inspirational potential to “all Americans”, Hayes hired 85 employees to promote events across the country, and soon the effort grew to include groups, organizations, and faith-based groups. In response, the name of the event was changed to Earth Day, which immediately sparked national media attention. It certainly inspires an all encompassing moment of contemplation!

A decade ago, Earth Day inspired about 20 million Americans (roughly 10% of the population at the time) to demonstrate against the after-effects of 150 years of industrialization. These impacts were having a significant impact on human health. Universities and colleges across the country organized protests against the degradation of the environment and there were massive rallies in cities, towns, and communities.

Oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, highways, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife had been the subject of independent protests before Earth Day, but they united around these values. 

In 1970, Earth Day gathered support from Republicans and Democrats, wealthy and poor, urban and rural dwellers, business and labour leaders. 

As a result of the first Earth Day in 1970, the United States Environmental Protection Agency was formed and other first-of-their-kind environmental laws were passed, including the National Environmental Education Act,  the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act.  After two years, Congress passed the Clean Water Act.  In the year following that, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act and shortly thereafter, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, Rodenticide Act. In addition to protecting millions of men, women, and children from diseases and death, these laws have also prevented the extinction of hundreds of species. Go humans!

1970: Earth Day Goes International

As 1990 approached, several environmental leaders asked Denis Hayes to organize yet another campaign for the planet. 200 million people in 141 countries participated in Earth Day that year, elevating environmental issues to the global stage. The 1990 Earth Day gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit.

Earth Day

Earth Day Today

Today, Earth Day has the largest recognised secular observance in the world, and celebrated by billions of people across the globe. Today is marked as the day of action and to bring change to human behaviour and those around us to promote local, national and global policy changes.

Now is the time to fight for a clean environment, as the urgency continues due to climate change. 

H2O | BWT invites you to be a part of Earth Day!

Here are 6 ways you can participate in Earth Day:

  1. Plant A Seed: Try planting a sprout, flower or tree in your garden, on your kitchen window, or in your backyard.
  2. Create recycling habits: Refrain from using single-use plastics, use reusable bags, and practice sorting wet (organic) to dry (plastic, paper and cans).
  3. Unsubscribe from paper catalogues: The world is evolving, and so should you! Try to opt for email newsletters instead of paper catalogues, and let’s save some trees. 
  4. Source local produce: Fruit and vegetables travel far and wide to get into supermarkets, causing large amounts of air pollutants. Click here to find a local farm markets in South Africa. 
  5. Use refillable water bottles: Over 1.5 million barrels of oil is used to manufacture plastic bottles each year. And practically all of these plastic bottles, haven’t been used only once most of the time, end up in landfill or simply as litter. But you can get fresh, clean water from using refillable water bottles, and help cut air pollution emissions. Shop for a reusable water bottle here. By using a refillable water bottle, you can have a massive positive impact on this problem.
  6. Volunteer your time: Keep your eye out for our H2O | BWT CleanUp, or volunteer your time at local organisations – there are usually plenty of fun activities. Click here to sign up for our H2O | BWT CleanUp.
beach clean up

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