Earth Day History is more glamorous than most people think. It started on a high note, with the support of celebrities and public personalities. However, the real issue should be whether or it has accomplished its original goal, to save the environment for mankind. Before we get into that, let's understand its beginnings.

Earth Day History


The 1960s was when a total massive increase in social and political awareness was starting inspired by college students opposing the Vietnam war. In no time, celebrities started participating in the protest too.


Earth Day History and Impact



Before the 60s, a small scale protest against DDT in Nassau County, New York ensued. This became the inspiration for Rachel Carson’s 1962 bestseller, Silent Spring. It sold 500,000 copies.

DDT is a chemical that was used as a insecticide. It was also used to treat malaria and typhus. Later on, people started questioning whether there are enough studies done on the chemical to ensure it doesn't cause cancer or other diseases.

Project Survival

In 1968, and environmental symposium was spearheaded by Morton Hilbert and the U.S. Public Health Service. This effort travelled the country giving talks to students about what they can do to help the environment. This was called Project Survival. The significance of this movement can’t be measured.

It was the strategy to focus on how environmental destruction affect health and safety of people, an issue that is close and relevant to everyone, that made people listen to environmental talks. This is the same strategy that was used by the first Earth Day supporters. The tour started in January of 1970. The network that this project built was also used by the very first Earth Day.  

Senator Nelson

Senator Nelson saw this trend as an opportunity to make people more involved in protesting irresponsible waste disposal and air and water pollution caused by multinational corporation manufacturing plants. He did it on April 22 because that’s when he can pull as many students as possible and “teach” them about the environment.

Senator Nelson figured that there are no religious holidays on that date, safe from exam week but not yet Spring Break.

A total of 22 million Americans went to the streets to protest. Different groups advocating different environmental issues on different States finally realized that they will become stronger if people will all come together. This resulted to more partnerships and cooperations.[1]

The Internet and Celebrities

The 1990s was the decade Earth Day went global. Dennis Hayes, the national coordinator since the first Earth Day, was approached to coordinate a worldwide effort. For the first time since 1970, 141 countries organized to participate in the Earth Day. An estimated 200 million individuals participated through street protest and other activities.

By 1995, President Bill Clinton gave Senator Nelson a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

By year 2000, Hayes decided to concentrate on Global Warming and Green Energy. For the first time, the internet played a big part in worldwide event.

By 2010, anti-environmental movement was gaining momentum. Many groups were claiming that environmentalists were just exaggerating, inventing even, figures and stories to bring down corporations and companies.


Impact of Earth Day


Earth Day History seems glamorous but the real measure of success should be on actual impact. The problem is that measuring the impact of Earth Day is probably close to impossible simply because there are too many participants that create their own movements as a group or as individuals. There is also no effort to consolidate all these efforts and corresponding results. However, there may be some indication via international and national legislations.

Earth Day History seems to display a lot of “celebrity” power. For example, it is often credited as the very first national event that brought republicans and democrats together. However, its impact is beyond that.


Earth Day History and Impact

Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Act

The very first Earth Day paved the way for the institutions of Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Act in the US. In a way, it is safe to say that any and every other legislation that emerged from that may be credited to Earth Day.

Groups and Local Governments

There are also different States that report improvements of their environment since the first Earth Day Summit such as Northeast Pennsylvania. They claim that their Lackawanna River is now healthy and is being used as a fishing spot. There are also different non-government organization and different movement that came out of Earth Day.[2]

United Nations

Earth Day History continnues. After the 1970 Earth Day, a UN Earth Day summit was conducted in 1972. The first summit is probably the summit that had the biggest impact in terms of influencing legislation:

  • U.S. create Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to monitor and manage pollution programs in different States
  • President Carter signed into law a different and stricter waste management programs
  • Inspired more than 20 countries to come together to ban chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)[3]


The 1992 U.N. Earth Summit, however, did little to influence any change and it was also then did countries discover that Global Warming is worse, deforestation is getting worse and more water is polluted. Countries who committed to change in 1972 failed to live up to their end of the bargain. To date:

  • There is an average of 10m hectares of forest that are being cut down yearly
  • About 130,000 different types of species disappear
  • A total of $125B help should have been sent to poorer countries, less than 10% came to fruition
  • Fishing grounds depleted by more than 50%


A succeeding summit was done in Kyoto and carbon dioxide was the new target. U.N. wanted to institute some measure on how to control its emission but even the U.S. didn’t comply. Instead, they proposed to limit the emission of other pollutants but not carbon dioxide.[4]

Final Assessment


The number one problem is that there is lack of effort to consolidate reports of all groups and countries who participate in the Earth Day.

If assessment is based on legislation, the first summit was a success but the succeeding one has become nothing but a lip service. The effort to ban chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) failed to sign more than half the countries who came to the convention because their country is yet to develop the alternative which is estimated to be thrice as expensive.

It was the same story with almost every change that U.N. is trying to put forward. Countries with less economic power couldn’t afford alternatives. They couldn’t afford to implement environmental protection laws because they are still busy trying to put food on their people’s table.

The initial success of Earth Day is lost and it has become nothing but a glamorous ceremony that is cool and hip.

The world can only hope that Earth Day History is far from over.