Celebrate Earth Day 2014

The first Earth Days in 1970 effectively raised awareness about environmental issues and stewardship that continues today.

What do the Clean Water Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, The Endangered Species Act and The Toxic Substances Control Act all have in common? Yes, they are all important pieces of environmental legislation. They also are all a direct result of the first Earth Days in 1970.

Prior to 1970, protecting the environment was not on the national agenda. Pollution was dumped in waterways, buried on the land and spewed into the air because there were no consequences for doing it – legally, economically or ethically. Maybe one of the culminating events that caught people’s attention about environmental pollution was the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. There was no Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate pollution or polluters.

There are actually two Earth Days celebrated annually. The first one that most do not know about is celebrated on the vernal equinox – either March 20 or 21 each year. This Earth Day, started in 1970, was the idea of publisher John McConnell who suggested an event to focus attention on everyone’s shared responsibility for environmental stewardship. He selected the vernal equinox because that day is seen as the renewal of the earth after a dormant winter. This Earth Day was supported by the United Nations where a proclamation was signed saying the UN would celebrate Earth Day at the precise time of the vernal equinox by ringing the Peace Bell at the UN in New York City.

The second Earth Day, first held on April 22, 1970, is the one that most people think of as “earth day.” It was organized by Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. He envisioned a “national teach-in on the environment” across college campuses. Senator Nelson’ goal of this Earth Day was to show his political colleagues that there was widespread support for a national environmental agenda.

Since the first Earth Days in 1970, the event has continued to grow. In many places, they celebrate “Earth Week” with a whole week of environmental activities. In 1990, Earth Day went global. Over 200 million people in 140 countries participated in activities. By 2000, those numbers grew to hundreds of million of people in 184 countries supported by 500 environmental organizations worldwide.

Because of these first Earth Days, Congress began addressing environmental issues by authorizing the creation of the U.S. EPA in December, 1970.

Today, the Earth Day Network, with over 17,000 partners in 174 countries, organizes events worldwide. For more information on Earth Day events or ideas for an Earth Day activity, contact environmental organizations in your community or Michigan State University Extension, Google “earth day 2014 events” or “earth day celebrations” or visit the Earth Day Network website. 

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