How did Earth Day originate?

Unpacking the history behind the annual environmental day

Of the 365 days in a year (or 366 – looking at you leap year), there is one day dedicated to celebrating the big blue globe we call home: Earth Day.

Meant to raise awareness about the environmental and pollution problems around the world, Earth Day was first celebrated on April 22, 1970. 

People around the world demonstrate their support for the environment by volunteering for different projects, donating to environmental relief foundations, and making more environmentally-friendly choices in your home like walking and biking more; which all can have a lasting impact on the environment.

“I think it’s a good way to celebrate the beauty of Earth and also a good way to bring attention to the climate crisis,” sophomore Abhiraj Sharma said. 

The inspiration behind Earth Day might be seen as unexpected. The publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller “Silent Spring” in 1962 helped to spark interest in the environment.

“The book raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and the inextricable links between pollution and public health,” according to, Earth Day’s official site.

The book, along with the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969, the largest oil spill to occur off the Californian coast, inspired the idea for a day where hundreds of thousands of people can participate in activities to improve the environment. 

Former  Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) is credited as the founder of Earth Day, as he was the first  to inspire college campus teach-ins about pollution and the enviroment.A teach-in is a discussion where students and faculty can talk about social and political issues. 

Nelson was inspired by the teach-ins across the nation that dealt with the Vietnam war. Nelson believed hosting teach-ins about the enviornment would aid in the fight for a better climate.

Nelson got the help of Denis Hayes, a young activist fighting for better environmental policies. He dropped out of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Public Policy because he thought the idea of Earth Daywas revolutionary. 

The first Earth Day went national, and had 20 million participants.

“Earth Day is a great day for people to respect the Earth,” sophomore Karan Urs said. “People should help the Earth and not increase global warming.” 

By 1990, more than 200 million people all over the world showed their support for the cause, after the celebration went global for the first time. In the year 2000, Hayes agreed to spearhead more enviromentalcampaigns. More than 20 years later, it’s one of the largest observance days in the world as more people are becoming aware of climate change and supporting movements by volunteering or urging the government to take action for ecological benefit.

Some local events were hosted in celebration of Earth Day, including celebrations at Stoneridge Shopping Center in Pleasanton, the Oakland Zoo, the San Damiano Retreat Center and Gift Shop in Danville, and the “Slow Streets” City Wide Volunteer Cleanup Party in San Francisco.

There has been a shift in  the way Earth Day has been publicized to people.  Increasing numbers of online organizations  have come to the forefront of the fight for a better planet. 

Some Cal students have decided to contribute to organizations with the goal of helping the environment. 

One student has a specific tradition.

“I donate to Team Trees,” junior Neel Kulkarni said of the collaborative fundraiser that was launched in late 2019 by a group of YouTubers, including MrBeast, to combat deforestation by matching every dollar donated with a tree planted.

According to the Team Trees website, the group has already planted over 13 million trees. 

Others believe that Earth Day needs more recognition.

“It’s a very important day, but hasn’t been implemented very well,” sophomore Arthur Wang said. “Because there is not much incentive to celebrate it.”

Earth Day has been an integral part in the education of enviornmental issues. And with the  increased attention the issues affecting the blue planet people call home garner, Earth Day becomes increasingly popular.