What is Earth Day and how did it start?
Earth Day is a global event that gives everyone the chance to focus on the environment. It brings people together in a coordinated attempt to tackle environmental problems. Every year it happens on the same day: 22 April.
The first ever Earth Day was in 1970. It followed a decade of growing awareness about problems with the environment – thanks in part to Rachel Carson’s book 'Silent Spring'. Her brilliantly written publication exposed the dangers of the pesticide DDT to wildlife and human health.
The first colour photos of Earth from space in 1968 also made an impact. The public saw a beautiful yet vulnerable planet that needed protecting.
Then US Senator, Gaylord Nelson, capitalised on this wave of environmental awareness. It was his idea that led to what we now know as Earth Day. Back on that Wednesday in 1970, millions of Americans went out to protest against industrial pollution. Friends of the Earth itself was founded in 1971.
Although originally focused on the United States, Earth Day went international in 1990. Now more than 1 billion people take part in 192 countries, according to Earth Day Network.
What do people do on Earth Day?
Earth Day is thought to be one of the biggest shows of public participation in the world.
People take part in an impressive range of events including peaceful actions such as marching and signing petitions. Other activities can include planting trees, lobbying local MPs, and tidying up towns and beaches. Businesses and governments make commitments to improve their environmental records, while faith leaders call on their congregations to recognise the importance of protecting God’s creations.
What have previous Earth Days been about?
Earth Day's 20-year anniversary in 1990 boosted recycling efforts worldwide by taking advantage of multimedia and exposure to an international audience.
A decade later, the power of the Internet played a major role during Earth Day 2000. Activists used the Web to organise global demonstrations, sending a message to world leaders that people wanted action to tackle climate change. On this day, a drum chain travelled from village to village in Gabon, Africa.
On Earth Day 2016, 174 countries and the European Union signed the Paris Agreement to keep the global temperature rise well below 2°C – and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°: the temperature that gives us the best chance of limiting global warming impacts to manageable levels.
Does Earth Day make a difference?
Earth Day is one of a host of civil actions that lets governments know that citizens worldwide are keeping an eye on the decisions they make. Decisions that affect people and the planet.
Earth Day 1970 gained support from both sides of US politics and people of all backgrounds. In July of the same year, its popularity helped lead to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.
In more recent years it has been linked to successes which include a global tree-planting initiative; and a service that rewards organisations for reducing their climate-changing emissions.
What can I do on Earth Day?
Earth Day is a great opportunity to help organisations like Friends of the Earth with their campaigns.
- Become a member by joining with a regular monthly gift
- Find and join a group near you working to make your area more climate friendly
- Subscribe to email and get updated on our latest campaigns and ways you can take part.