Earth Day


Earth Day, which is celebrated annually on April 22, involves special events held around the world that are designed to increase awareness and appreciation of the environment.


Earth Day, declared International Mother Earth Day by the United Nations in 2009, is an annual celebration of the natural environment. Beginning in 1970, each year on April 22, millions of people around the globe gather to celebrate Earth. Participants of Earth Day activities include people of all ages, races, religions, and political beliefs from governmental and private organizations, schools, charities, and community groups. Activities vary each year and include service efforts, lectures, speeches, games, and other forms of entertainment, all expressive of environmental and conservation values.


The concept for Earth Day began with U.S. senator Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin Democrat, who in 1969 proposed a series of environmental teach-ins on college campuses across the nation after being impressed by the effects of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbra, California, earlier that same year. Hoping to satisfy a course requirement at Harvard by organizing a teach-in there, graduate student Denis Hayes flew to Washington, DC, to interview Nelson. The senator persuaded Hayes to drop out of Harvard and organize the nationwide series of events that were only a few months away. According to Hayes, Wednesday, April 22 was chosen because it was a weekday and would not compete with weekend activities. It also came before students would start intensive studying for final exams, but after the winter thaw in the north.

The first Earth Day, which occurred in 1970, attracted over twenty million participants in the United States. It launched the modern environmental movement and spurred the passage of several important environmental laws. At the time, it was the largest demonstration in history. People from all walks of life took part in marches, teach-ins, rallies, and speeches across the country. Congress adjourned so that politicians could attend hometown events, and cars were banned from New York's Fifth Avenue.

Twenty years later, Earth Day anniversary celebrations attracted even greater participation. An estimated 200 million people in more than 140 nations were involved in events. In the United States, a concert and rally in New York's Central Park drew over one million people; a rally at the National Mall in Washington, DC, drew 350,000; and a festival in Los Angeles attracted 30,000.

Denis Hayes, with help from hundreds of volunteers, also organized the 1990 Earth Day. This time, the event was well organized and well funded; it was widely supported by both environmentalists and the business community. The United Auto Workers Union sent Earth Day booklets to all its members, the National Education Association sent information to almost every teacher in the country, and the Methodist Church mailed Earth Day sermons to more than 30,000 ministers.

NASA demonstration at Earth Day 2016, Union Station, Washington, DC, April 22, 2016.

NASA demonstration at Earth Day 2016, Union Station, Washington, DC, April 22, 2016.
(NG Images/Alamy Stock Photo)

Abroad, Berliners planted 10,000 trees along the East-West border. In Myanmar there were protests against the killing of elephants. Brazilians demonstrated against the destruction of their tropical rain forests. In Japan people demonstrated against disposable chopsticks, and 10,000 people attended a concert on an island built on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay.

The sophisticated advertising and public relations campaign, licensing of its logo, and sale of souvenirs provoked criticism in 1990 that Earth Day had become commercial. Even oil, chemical, and nuclear firms joined in and proclaimed their love for nature. But Hayes defended the approach as necessary to maximize interest and participation in the event, to broaden its appeal, and to launch a decade of environmental activism that would force world leaders to address the many threats to the planet. He also pointed out that, although foundations, corporations, and individuals had donated $3.5 million, organizers turned down over $4 million from companies that were thought to be harming the environment.

The 30-year anniversary of the event in 2000 was also organized by Hayes. This time, 5,000 environmental groups were able to reach people in 184 countries. With the use of the Internet, the message of Earth Day was more easily spread throughout the world. Events took place in many countries, from a talking drum chain that traveled from village to village in Gabon, Africa, to hundreds of thousands of people gathering in Washington to hear environmental speakers.

On April 22, 2009, the United Nations declared Earth Day, April 22, as International Mother Earth Day. The fortieth annual celebration of Earth Day was held the next year in 2010. More than one billion people worldwide took part in local Earth-Dayrelated events. Earth Day had become the most widely observed secular holiday. As of 2012, activities attracted participation from over 1 billion people from more than 192 countries each year.


The purpose of Earth Day is to increase awareness and appreciation of the environment and to bring attention to the environmental issues people face. One of the main goals of Earth Day is to bring together people from all walks of life in a common goal to protect Earth's natural beauty and resources. The concept is that the more people know about the environment and environmental policies, the more likely their choices will be environmentally wise and the more involved they will become in environmental causes.


The first Earth Day had a major impact on the United States. Following Earth Day, conservation organizations saw their memberships double and triple. Within months, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created. The first Earth Day is also credited for leading to the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

Earth Day has continued to inspire people to get involved and do something good for the environment. In 2010, film director James Cameron launched an initiative to plant one million trees, and the Earth Day Network established the goal of “A Billion Acts of Green” by 2012. Earth Day Network met and exceeded this goal before Earth Day 2012.

See also Air pollution ; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) .



Earth Day Network. “A Billion Acts of Green!” (accessed October 26, 2012).

EnviroLink. “Organizer and Activist Resources: Earth Day Event Ideas.” (accessed October 26, 2012).

Maleri, John. “History of Earth Day.” United Nations Foundation. (accessed October 26, 2012).

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Take Action.” (accessed October 26. 2012).


Earth Day Network, 1616 P St. NW, Ste. 340, Washington, DC, 20036, (202) 518-0044,, .

United Nations Foundation, 1800 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Ste. 400, Washington, DC, 20036, (202) 887-9040, Fax: (202) 887-9021,, .

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Ariel Rios Bldg., 1200 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC, 20460, (202) 272-0167; TTY (202) 272-0165, .

Endangered species—
A species vulnerable to extinction.
Not religious, having no religion basis.

Lewis G. Regenstein
Revised by Tish Davidson, AM

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.