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What To Know About the History of Earth Day

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

Taking place every year on April 22, Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement that began in 1970. At its inception, Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans — 10 percent of the total population of the United States at the time — to take to the streets and protest the impacts of industrial development that had been damaging human health as a result.

Before Earth Day

Before the creation of Earth Day, Americans were already becoming more aware of the effects of pollution. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s bestseller Silent Spring drew national attention to the dangerous effects of pesticide usage on the American countryside and farms. Carson’s scientific knowledge as a marine biologist and her poetic writing style made the message of her book accessible for a broader audience to understand the dangers of DDT usage. Carson is widely credited for inspiring the grassroots environmental movement with the publishing of Silent Spring. Despite facing fierce opposition from chemical companies, the success of Carson’s Silent Spring would lead to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides.

The First Earth Day

Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin is the man behind the idea of Earth Day. After witnessing the devastation of the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, and the energy of the student anti-war movement, Senator Nelson wanted to infuse the energy of student protests with an emerging public awareness of air and water pollution.

This sparked the idea for a teach-in on college campuses to national media. Senator Nelson persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republican Congressman to serve as his co-chair. Denis Hayes, a young activist, was recruited by Senator Nelson to organize the campus teach-ins and to scale the idea to reach the rest of the general public. The date April 22 was chosen as the weekday between spring break and final exams that would maximize student participation.


The first Earth Day in 1970 achieved a rare moment of unity among the American population. Republicans and Democrats, urban dwellers and rural residents, young and old, rich and poor people all came together to prioritize the conservation of the Earth.

In December 1970, Congress authorized the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. As a result, several monumental environmental laws were passed, including the Clean Air Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

The Clean Air Act (CAA) established federal standards for regulating air emissions from stationary and mobile sources. The CAA authorized the EPA to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards to protect public health and to regulate the emissions of hazardous air pollutants.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed to ensure worker and workplace safety. Employers are to provide their workers a place of employment free from recognized hazards to safety and health. The hazards include exposure to toxic chemicals, excessive noise levels, mechanical dangers, heat or cold stress, and unsanitary conditions.

2024 Theme: Planet Vs. Plastics

Per Earth Day’s official website, the 2024 theme Planet vs. Plastics demonstrates the unwavering commitment to end plastics for the sake of human and planetary health. The goal is to demand a 60 percent reduction of all plastic production by 2040.

By raising health awareness of the dangers of plastic, this year’s Earth Day aims to demand change for phasing out all single-use plastics, call an end to fast fashion, and create innovative solutions to build a plastic-free world.

Plastics flow through our very own bloodstream and the environment around us. As plastic breaks down into micro-particles, it releases toxic chemicals that reach our food and water sources. More plastic has been produced in the last 10 years than in the entire 20th century.

How To Get Involved For Earth Day

As the largest secular civic event in the world, there are many ways to get involved for Earth Day. Many cities will host their own Earth Day Festival, and environmental organizations may host their own Earth Day clean-up events. Even just spending the day outside to appreciate the natural environment around us is one way to celebrate Earth Day.

As individuals, we can all pick up our trash, minimize our consumption, and share our knowledge of environmental conservation with our peers. Regardless of where you reside, you can contact your representatives to express your support for legislation protecting the Earth’s health and conservation.

Take the lessons and practices of Earth Day beyond Earth Day. Every day we wake up on planet Earth is a day when we should be taking care of Mother Earth.

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Savannah is a Public Health major from Jacksonville, Florida. She enjoys long walks on the beach, playing piano, and long distance running.