The history of Earth Day

Monday, April 22, 2019
by Jenna Phillips

Earth Day is April 22nd and is just around the corner! It’s a day full of education, empowerment, and conservation. Communities around the world take part in sustainability initiatives such as tree planting, yard clean-ups, or rallies, and many extend these activities for the entire month of April, globally known as Earth Month. There’s no better month to celebrate life on Earth than in April, when the planet is reawakening after a long, dreary winter. So how did it all begin?

Earth Day beginnings

Earth Day has been around for a long time — nearly 50 years, to be exact. The tradition began in the United States in 1970, making this year the 49th annual Earth Day! The idea was proposed by US Senator Gaylord Nelson after learning about the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill, still considered one of the worst in history as it covered more than 30 miles of ocean within a few days and killed thousands of seabirds and marine animals. This tragedy inspired Nelson to create a national day that would be a “teach-in on the environment” to educate the public on the importance of environmental protection and how human behaviours harm the planet. He appointed Denis Hayes, a student from Harvard University, to coordinate the first ever Earth Day on April 22 1970.

The first Earth Day

The first Earth Day gathered 20 million participants from around the country, including more than 2,000 universities/colleges and over 10,000 primary and secondary schools. Protestors flooded the streets demanding greater environmental protection, from wildlife preservation to pesticide use to wastewater management. This momentum contributed to the development of the Environmental Protection Agency, along with the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. 

After several successful Earth Days, Hayes established the Earth Day Network. This international organization took Earth Day to a global scale in 1990 with over 180 nations celebrating. This first international Earth Day attracted 200 million participants, and is now known as the world’s most widespread non-religious holiday.

Earth Day continues to expand and gain recognition around the world. Communities are increasingly organizing environmental activities to educate and empower their citizens on the importance of environmental protection.

Activities in Waterloo Region

There are many ways that citizens can get involved to celebrate Earth Day in Waterloo Region. Here are a few of the activities: 

Wednesday, April 24 (12-1pm): 20 Minute Makeover, University of Waterloo

The University is hosting a 20 Minute Makeover, cleaning up various “hot spots” around campus. Register on Eventbrite as an individual or team and help make our campus cleaner, greener and healthier!

Friday, April 26 to Sunday, April 28: Earth Day Community Clean-up

Join community members across the city to clean up our parks and trails. Choose a location, grab some friends and register with the City of Waterloo to get free supplies.

Saturday, April 27 (1-4pm): KW Earth Day Event, Betchel Park

The annual KW Earth Day event is being hosted at Betchel Park. There are many free family-friendly, nature-oriented activities to do, including tree planting, bird house building and more!

Saturday, April 27 (11am-5pm): KW EcoMarket, Waterloo Region Museum

Initiated last year, this one-day market brings together local businesses with a passion for sustainability. From natural soaps to handmade jewelry to recycled clothing and fair trade coffee, you will find it all at the EcoMarket! There will also be DIY beeswax-making lesson, a bike repair station and a BYOC body scrub worksop! 

Beyond Earth Day

Earth Day isn’t about protecting the planet for one day (or week, or month); it’s about sustaining these actions and creating a lifestyle that supports and protects the environment for the long-term. Here are some great ways to sustain your environmental efforts:

  • Join a club on campus that promotes sustainability within the university, such as Sustainable Campus Initiative, Campus Compost or the ES Coffee Shop, or take part in their events
  • Carry a reusable water bottle, food container, and cutlery
  • Ask for your drink without a straw
  • Shop at your local farmer’s market for produce, meat, and bread, and look for less-packaged alternatives when shopping
  • Use less electricity by turning lights off in vacant rooms and unplugging unused chargers
  • Plant a native pollinator garden
  • Make a donation to a local environmental organization, like Sustainable Waterloo Region or Reep Green Solutions, or volunteer your time with them 
  • Get outside and reconnect with nature!

There are so many ways to promote sustainability in your everyday life. If you’re eager to start living a more sustainable lifestyle but don’t know where to start, use Earth Day as inspiration and to kick-start your journey!

So, what are you going to do for the planet this Earth Day? Whatever it may be, every small action contributes to a massive change.