World Earth Day: How It All Started

 22nd April, known as the World Earth Day celebrates the triumph of life on earth and its ecological diversity. There was indeed a time when our prehistoric ancestors lived peacefully in nature’s embrace, adapting to the   climatic conditions they lived in. With the passage of time, modern civilizations sprang up and men began to defy the laws of nature, enforcing a hegemonic control over nature and her agents. In the modern world marked by technological and scientific advancements, we are witnessing the gradual degradation of the ecosystems around the world and its consequences.

 On this day in the year 1970, 20 million Americans took part in a demonstration staging protests against environmental deterioration and highlighted the need to launch an organized programme in support of the cause. The person behind this massive demonstration was the U.S Senator from Wisconsin Gaylord Nelson, an active environmentalist and activist. Overcoming the resistance he faced in the Congress, Nelson declared April 22 as ‘Earth Day’ and urged people to take part in numbers.


Observers of the first world earth day.

Being inspired by the anti-war demonstrations and rallies that condemned the imperialistic attitude of U.S towards Vietnam, Nelson formulated a plan to get people involved in a large-scale grassroots demonstration upholding environmental crises. To set the ball rolling, Nelson formally announced his plans at a conference in Seattle in autumn 1969. Within a few days, inquiries swarmed from all parts of the country, making Nelson’s initiative successful.

Dennis Hayes, a young activist who was the student president at Stanford University was given the responsibility of coordinating the Earth Day activities. Dennis spread the word and attracted students and volunteers who worked towards the materialization of the project. A spirit of positivity that the project elicited overwhelmed Nelson and he remarked that the most laudable achievement of the project was its spontaneity.

Senator Nelson and President Kennedy discussing on environment and public awareness.
Senator Nelson and President Kennedy discussing on the environment and public awareness.

On April 22, rallies were organized in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and other prominent American cities and in New York, Mayor John Lindsay cordoned off a section of Fifth Avenue and spoke at a rally in Union Square accompanied by actors Paul Newman and Ali McGraw. Internationally famed musician Pete Seeger and others performed in Washington D.C and the Congress was dissolved so that the members could interact with their constituents at Earth Day events.

Children participating the Earth Day demonstration in 1970.
Children participating in the Earth Day demonstration in 1970.

The inaugural celebration of the Earth Day succeeded in mobilizing awareness regarding environmental issues and brought about a sea change in people’s outlook towards life. As stated by the Environmental Protection Agency, public opinion polls indicated the change in national priorities that followed Earth Day 1970. The project ushered in ‘the environmental decade’ as quoted Nelson and a series of environmental acts were passed in the Parliament.

Earth Day celebrations gradually cut across nations and in 1990 it became a global phenomenon. Today, the Earth Day is celebrated in 174 countries and more than a billion people are involved in it. It has been regarded as the largest secular civic event in the world. While we stuff ourselves with fast foods, with our eyes transfixed on LED screens, most of us are indifferent to the injuries we inflict upon the environment. Time is running out fast, either we act responsibly or we let the sand slip through our fingers.


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