The History of Earth Day 🌎

By Bailey Chenevert

History of Earth Day

This April 22 will be Earth Day’s 52nd birthday, so we’re looking back at the events and people that started it all

It began with an environmental tragedy – the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969 sent 21,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean along California’s coast. This in combination with the Cuyahoga river fire and the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring made Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson feel like environmentalism was a potent political issue. Inspired by the anti-war student movement, Nelson organized campus teach-ins across the country about oil pollutants, power plants, pesticides and all kinds of environmental issues plaguing the nation at the time. 

The teach-ins were successful; more than 20 million Americans rallied with the movement. That was 10% of the country’s population at the time. Incredibly, the movement became even bigger when they dropped the “teach-in” name and embraced the Earth Day moniker we all know today. In 1990, Denis Hayes, a young activist recruited for the first Earth Day, organized the first global Earth Day observance with more than 200 million people. Today, over a billion people observe Earth Day every year, making it the largest secular celebration in the world. 

Earth Day Fun Facts

  • Earth Day falls on April 22 because it was originally planned around student participation; in 1970, April 22 fell in between Spring Break and finals. 
  • April 22 is also the birthday of Julien Koenig, who coined the name “Earth Day” for the movement in part because it rhymes with “birthday.” 
  • The first Earth Day led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. 
  • This year’s theme is “Invest in our Planet.”
  • The Paris Agreement was signed on Earth Day, 2016 by the U.S. and more than 120 other countries. 
  • Over 100 million people observed the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, making it the largest online mass mobilization in history. .
  • President and First Lady Nixon planted a tree in the White House yard to signify the first Earth Day.

How to Celebrate

We can celebrate our planet at any time of the year, but if you want to do something extra special for Earth month, here are some ideas:

  • Create a list of environmental goals you want to accomplish this year – things like composting, making your own oat milk or planting a garden. 
  • Plan weekly outdoor activities with yourself or your friends. Get out for sunrise yoga or explore your city’s public green spaces.
  • Calculate your carbon footprint and use that to inform your Earth Day celebration.
  • Try some new vegetarian dishes to cut back on methane pollution created from raising livestock and buying meat products. Get spicy with some mapo tofu, sweet with banana pancakes or salty with chana masala.
  • Stay with this year’s theme to “invest in our planet” by checking out your favorite brands on Cluey for their impact on the environment. Some brands with top-rated planet impacts are Dr. Bronner’sSeventh Generation and Purely Elizabeth


Bailey Chenevert is a freelance journalist and guest editorial contributor for Cluey Consumer. As a current master’s student at Appalachian State University, Bailey is researching the ways media consumption impacts our psychology. Bailey is passionate about impartial reporting on consumerism and the impacts that fashion brands have on our modern world. She has more than six years of experience in journalism as a writer, editor and director.

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