“Happy Earth Day to You”: World Ecology Celebration Turns Forty

On the first Earth Day in 1970, more than 20 million people across the United States participated. In 1990 Earth Day went global. Now, marking its 40th year, the celebration involved perhaps a billion people in 180 countries around the world, according to Kathleen Rogers, president of the Earth Day Network. The original Earth Day, which has been credited with launching the modern ecology movement, was characterized by single-day actions like park cleanups or tree-planting. It has since grown to become “the largest secular civic event in the world.” Some of the issues have changed too, in part because of past successes, such as in clearing up visible problems of air and water pollution.

Earth Day has become a time to highlight work that has been going on year-round. It’s a day to convene leaders, announce new initiatives or commitments, evaluate existing campaigns—and take advantage of the fact that people are paying attention. Although its momentum came initially from the grass roots, it has adapted to the fact that much environmental innovation and leadership today is actually driven by the corporate world. Not only has Earth Day been turned into a marketing platform for so-called eco-consumerism, it also has come to reflect the partnerships between environmental advocacy groups and the corporations from which they receive much of their funding.

Earth Day was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. Nelson advocated an environmental protest modeled after the antiwar demonstrations of the 1960s called teach-ins. The success of Earth Day helped broaden environmentalism from traditional conservation, or concerns around protection of wilderness and animals, to combating pollution, encouraging energy efficiency, promoting recycling, and so on. It helped achieve permanent changes in national priorities first in the United States but also in other countries.

Related Links

  • At 40, Earth Day Is Now Big Business
    This New York Times article examines what Earth Day means today, taking stock of how it has changed since its beginning.
    (Source: New York Times, April 22, 2010)
  • Earth Day at 40: How It Began, Where It’s Going
    National Geographic’s Web site covers the 40-year history of the environmental movement’s signature event, now recognized by an estimated 1 billion people worldwide.
    (Source: National Geographic; accessed April 22, 2010)
  • Earth Day
    History.com’s site recounts the origins and growth of what has become the “largest secular civic event in the world”; includes a time line and “What You Can Do” links.
    (Source: History.com; accessed April 22, 2010)
  • PHOTOS: The First Earth Day—Bell-Bottoms and Gas Masks
    Take a time-capsule photo gallery tour of the first Earth Day in April 1970—wear your bell bottoms!
    (Source: National Geographic; accessed April 22, 2010)

One Comment

  1. adrianna says:

    yah happy birthday