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A Brief History of Earth Day

For the last 51 years, Earth Day has celebrated the fight against pollution, and around the world, people come together to bring awareness to environmental issues by planting trees and organizing sit-ins and community clean-ups.

 The 1970s.

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In 1970, inspired by Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring and an oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif., Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day with the intention of raising public awareness of environmental issues. Nelson decided to hold Earth on April 22 to maximize the number of college students that would be able to participate because April 22 tends to fall between Spring Break and Final Exams. Because of the massive amount of public support Earth Day received, the US Congress created the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and passed the Clean Water Act (establishing regulations for what can be discharged into the waterways) and the Clean Air Act (establishing regulations for what can be emitted into the air).

The 1990s.

1990 marked the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. It also marked the year that Earth Day went global with 141 countries and 200 million people mobilizing for environmental issues. The globalization of Earth Day eventually paved the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.


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Today, Earth Day is celebrated around the globe and is actually considered to be the largest secular observance in the world. And because of the urgent climate crisis, Earth Day has garnered the same level of attention it had in the 1970s and, just like in the 1970s, young people are once again at the forefront of the movement holding digital workshops and events. This year, EARTHDAY.ORG will be hosting virtual workshops, panel discussions and special performances covering several interesting topics including environmental justice, reforestation and much more.

Jazmyne Bernal

CU Boulder '23

Jazmyne is a junior majoring in Journalism. In her free time, she loves crafting and hanging out with her dog.
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