Lead Forensics

Digging into the history of Earth Day

13 April 2022


If you’ve frequented any one of the numerous awareness day calendars available online, it’s likely your eyes have stumbled upon Earth Day.

But what is its exact purpose? Where and when did it originate? And why should it be added to your diary?

Earth Day’s roots

In the decades leading up to the 1970s, official recognition of the environmental damage being caused by humans was about as common as a solar panel.

War, industry and more war had sent emissions into a tailspin, accelerating the already heady upturns in global warming and pollution first triggered by the Industrial Revolution 200 years earlier.

This all changed in 1969, when an American activist named John McConnell proposed a day to celebrate Earth and the quest for peace.

His idea gained traction among influential Senators, chief among them Gaylord Nelson, who, inspired by the ‘Earthrise’ photograph of 1968, and environmental catastrophes such as the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969, tasked another activist, Denis Hayes, with organising the first Earth Day on April 22nd, 1970. It drew 20 million people out onto US streets – this remains the single largest protest in American history.

Fun fact: Despite generating a large chunk of its funding from the sale of posters, pins and other promotional merchandise, the organisers of the first Earth Day refused to sell lucrative bumper stickers, as they would go on cars.

Spreading the seeds worldwide

The success of the first Earth Day led to a slew of new environmental laws being passed in the US throughout the 1970s, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. This success culminated in a triumphant second Earth Day in 1980.

In 1990, Denis Hayes returned to organise events in 141 countries, resulting in the mobilisation of 200 million people worldwide and, ultimately, the United Nations Earth Summit in 1992. The global push is also widely praised for transforming recycling infrastructure across the globe.

By 2000, the focus had shifted to climate change, with an even bigger global movement than that seen in 1990 harnessing the power of the internet to organise activist groups for the first time.

Fun fact: Google’s first Earth Day doodle was released in 2001.

Earth Day today

Earth Day has become an annual event over the past twenty years, with each year focusing on a different cause: from voter registration in 2004, to personalising the challenges of climate change in 2013.

In 2016, The Paris Agreement was signed on Earth Day.

This year’s theme is Invest in Our Planet. It’s focus branches out into six areas: the great global clean up; sustainable fashion; food and environment; climate and environmental literacy; the Canopy Project; and the Global Earth Challenge.

There are dozens of ways you and your business can get involved in this year’s Earth Day, with a nifty toolkit available via the official website.

History demonstrates that the efforts of those who celebrate Earth Day can make a huge difference. Let’s ensure 2022 represents the start of a new chapter in its storied history.

Let's get social