In the 21st century, Earth Day is the most widely secular civic event in the world, drawing in billions of people each year to participate in Earth Day activities. So, how did the environmentally-friendly holiday get its start? It was created during the environmentally-unfriendly 1970s to challenge the staggering pollution, gas consumption, and destructive human impacts on the environment. While it may have pissed off big industries, the first Earth Day was the most successful campaign for environmental protection that the nation had ever seen.

Challenging humanity’s environmental destruction

Let’s face it: the human race hasn’t exactly been environmentally-friendly throughout history. Back in the sweet old 1960s and 1970s, plenty of societal and political evils were being protested, but not many people were speaking up for the planet. The protest era witnessed a massive uptick in air pollution, lead gas consumption, factory emissions, and greenhouse gas production. Not many people seemed aware of the fact that by destroying the earth, they were also dooming mankind. However, the pollution created by corporate greed and personal convenience began to meet their match when figures in power pointed out the damage being done to the planet. When Rachel Carson released Silent Spring in 1962, a bestseller about the environment and humanity’s relationship with it, the everyday citizen was forced to acknowledge the impact of their behaviors on the earth. Still, what was the culmination of this increased awareness for the environment?

Stunning protests against environmental issues

While most people didn’t stop driving their cars, smoking, or buying factory goods, something positive came out of the emerging social awareness for the environment: Earth Day. Earth Day was created to raise environmental concerns to the level of other protest-worthy topics at the time. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson was the first to pitch the idea for Earth Day after witnessing the terrible impacts of the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969. He believed that honing the energy from young people’s fury could help promote more positive treatment of the planet. With a committee of 85 other earth-friendly politicians, Nelson organized events across the country, set to occur on April 22nd, 1970. On that historic day, millions of Americans of all political affiliations, ages, and races joined together to in nationwide protests and demonstrations against pollution, oil spills, trash dumps, and other forms of violence against the environment. After a stunning number of American citizens expressed their outrage, Earth Day triggered the passage of a number of new acts meant to support the wellbeing of the planet.

Producing change on an international level

Within the same year that Earth Day was founded, the American government attempted to pass laws in favor of the earth-friendly Americans. Politicians and other figures of power made efforts to find solutions to the growing issue of environmental destruction at the hands of human beings. Before long, the United States Environmental Protection Agency was created, leading to the creation of the Clean Air, Clear Water, and Endangered Species Acts. Even a mere year before the first Earth Day, the passage of such acts would have been laughable. The widespread effects of Earth Day, including the protests and outrage produced by all demographics of Americans, is what ultimately led to the passage of these game-changing environmental laws. While Earth Day in 1970 was met with massive success, Senator Nelson and his many supporters didn’t want to halt their mission on a national level.

In 1990, Nelson took his Earth Day values to a global level, acquiring the support of countries across the globe also concerned with environmental issues. He introduced a number of environmental problems to the international stage, including encouraging recycling and pollution control worldwide. His efforts were met with enthusiasm across the world, and they earned him a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in 1995. As the 21st century began, activists continued to raise new environmental struggles to the public eye, including shedding light on clean energy, global warming, deforestation, and the destructive actions of oil companies.