Earth Day

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  • Topic: Earth Day, Equinox, Environmentalism
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  • Published : May 7, 2013
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Earth Day

Founded in 1970 as a day of education about environmental issues, Earth Day is now a globally celebrated holiday that is sometimes extended into Earth Week, a full seven days of events focused on green awareness. The brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson and inspired by the antiwar protests of the late 1960s, Earth Day was originally aimed at creating a mass environmental movement. It began as a "national teach-in on the environment" and was held on April 22 to maximize the number of students that could be reached on university campuses. By raising public awareness of air and water pollution, Nelson hoped to bring environmental causes into the national spotlight.

Earth Day was first suggested by John McDonnell (from the United States) in 1969 at a UNESCO Conference on the Environment. The United Nations began an Earth Day celebration on the March Equinox and continued this celebration every year since. In 1968, Morton Hilbert and the U.S. Public Health Service organized the Human Ecology Symposium, an environmental conference for students to hear from scientists about the effects of environmental degradation on human health. This was the beginning of Earth Day. For the next two years, Hilbert and students worked to plan the first Earth Day. In April 1970—along with a federal proclamation from U.S. Senator Nelson—the first Earth Day was held.

Earth Day Name

According to Nelson, the name "Earth Day" was "an obvious and logical name" suggested by "a number of people" in the fall of 1969, including, he writes, both "a friend of mine who had been in the field of public relations" and "a New York advertising executive," Julian Koenig. Koenig, who had been on Nelson's organizing committee in 1969, has said that the idea came to him by the coincidence of his birthday with the day selected, April 22; "Earth Day" rhyming with "birthday," the connection seemed natural. Other names circulated during preparations—Nelson himself continued to call it the National Environment Teach-In, but national coordinator Denis Hayes used the term Earth Day in his communications and press coverage of the event was "practically unanimous" in its use of "Earth Day," so the name stuck.

Significance of April 22

Nelson chose the date in order to maximize participation on college campuses for what he conceived as an "environmental teach-in". He determined the week of April 19–25 was the best bet as it did not fall during exams or spring breaks. Moreover, it did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather. More students were likely to be in class, and there would be less competition with other mid-week events—so he chose Wednesday, April 22. Unbeknownst to Nelson, April 22, 1970, was coincidentally the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Lenin. Time reported that some suspected the date was not a coincidence, but a clue that the event was "a Communist trick", and quoted a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution as saying, "subversive elements plan to make American children live in an environment that is good for them." J. Edgar Hoover, director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, may have found the Lenin connection intriguing; it was alleged the FBI conducted surveillance at the 1970 demonstrations. The idea that the date was chosen to celebrate Lenin's centenary still persists in some quarters, an idea borne out by the similarity with the subbotnik instituted by Lenin in 1920 as days on which people would have to do community service, which typically consisted in removing rubbish from public property and collecting recyclable material. Subbotniks were also imposed on other countries within the compass of Soviet power, including Eastern Europe, and at the height of its power the Soviet Union established a nation-wide subbotnik to be celebrated on Lenin's birthday, April 22, which had been proclaimed a national holiday...
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