10 Earth Day Facts You Didn't Know

Learn More About This Global Environmental Celebration

Small plant with roots and soil in the palm of a human hand.
Earth Day is one of our most important national holidays.

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Do you celebrate Earth Day? There are a few things you probably don't know about this global environmental celebration.

01
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Earth Day's Founder

Photograph of Gaylord Nelson standing at a podium speaking at an Earth Day event.

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In 1970, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson was looking for a way to promote the environmental movement. He proposed the idea of "Earth Day." His plan included classes and projects that would help the public understand what they could do to protect the environment. 

The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970. The holiday has been celebrated on this day every year since.

02
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An Oil Spill Started It All

Marchers protesting after the Santa Barbara oil spill.
This 2005 oil spill protest in Santa Barbara was similar to one organized in 1969 after a previous oil spill.

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It's true. A massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California inspired Senator Nelson to organize a national "teach-in" day to educate the public about environmental issues. 

03
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The First Earth Day

Black and white photo of a crowd gathered to celebrate the first Earth Day.

University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

After his election to the Senate in 1962, Nelson began trying to convince lawmakers to establish an environmental agenda. But he was repeatedly told that Americans were not concerned about environmental issues. He proved everyone wrong when 20 million people came out to support the first Earth Day celebration and teach-in on April 22, 1970.

04
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Getting the College Kids Involved

Young people picking up trash in a field on a sunny day.
Today, almost every college in the U.S. celebrates Earth Day with conferences, classes, projects, films, and festivals.

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When Nelson began planning the first Earth Day, he wanted to maximize the number of college kids who could participate. He chose April 22, as it was after most schools had spring break but before the mayhem of finals set in. It is also after both Easter and Passover. And of course, it didn't hurt that the date is just one day after the birthday of late conservationist John Muir.

05
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Earth Day Went Global in 1990

Children drawing a globe with chalk.

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Earth Day may have originated in the U.S., but today it is a global phenomenon celebrated in almost every country around the world.

Earth Day's international status owes its thanks to Denis Hayes. He is the national organizer of Earth Day events in the U.S. In 1990, he coordinated similar Earth Day events in 141 countries. More than 200 million people around the world took part in these events.

06
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Climate Change in 2000

Polar bear standing on melting ice.

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In celebrations that included 5,000 environmental groups and 184 countries, the focus of the millennial Earth Day celebration in 2000 was climate change. This mass effort marked the first time that many people heard of global warming and learned of ​its potential side effects.

07
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Plant Trees Not Bombs in 2011

Close up of a child planting a seedling in the dirt.

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To celebrate Earth Day in 2011, 28 million trees were planted in Afghanistan by the Earth Day Network as part of their "Plant Trees Not Bombs" campaign.

08
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Bikes Across Beijing in 2012

Silhouette of a person riding a bicycle against a sunset sky.

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On Earth Day in 2012, more than 100,000 people rode bikes in China to raise awareness about climate change. Biking showed how people can reduce carbon dioxide emissions and save fuel burned by cars.

09
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The Official Earth Anthem in 2013

Sunlight eclipsing planet earth as seen from space.

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In 2013, Indian poet and diplomat Abhay Kumar wrote a piece called the "Earth Anthem" to honor the planet and all of its inhabitants. It has since been translated in all of the official UN languages, including English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Hindi, Nepali, and Chinese.

10
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Trees for the Earth in 2016

Children planting a tree together on a sunny day.

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In 2016, more than 1 billion people in almost 200 countries around the world participated in Earth Day festivities. The theme of the celebration was "Trees for the Earth," with organizers focusing on the global need for new trees and forests

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the Earth Day Network set a goal to plant 7.8 billion trees globally by 2020 through the Canopy Project.

Sources

"1969 Oil Spill." University of California. The Regents of the University of California, Santa Barbara, 2018.

"John Muir." National Park Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, May 13, 2018.

"The Canopy Project." Earth Day Network, 2019, Washington, DC.