By: Kyle Grammatica
Do you know how Earth Day started? Read more to learn about how this celebration started, why it is so important, and what you can do to participate.
The Santa Barbara Oil Spill
In January of 1969, an oil platform off the coast of Santa Barbara, California exploded, spilling more than 21,000 gallons of oil into the ocean. The main spill lasted 11 days, but smaller amounts continued to leak out through the end of March. Sadly, thousands of sea-birds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions died as a result of the spill. At the time, the Santa Barbara oil spill was the largest in American history and inspired waves of environmental-activism across the nation.
The First Earth Day
Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson saw the oil spill from an airplane, and was motivated to create Earth Day, a holiday that would not only celebrate the environment, but inspire people to demand the protection of it. Senator Nelson, along with California Congressman Pete McCloskey, and Harvard student Denis Hayes organized the first Earth Day celebration on April 22, 1970.
The organizers knew that the success of Earth Day rested on college students, who had already been protesting events like the Vietnam War. Denis Hayes was key in motivating student activism across the country, and April 22nd was chosen because it was in the gap between college student’s spring break and final exams. On the first Earth Day, 20 million people across the United States declared their desire for environmental protection. The loud voices of the people were heard, and soon after the event the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts were put into effect. Earth Day also helped secure the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Earth Day Today
Over the years, Earth Day grew into a worldwide celebration with 193 countries participating. The organizers of the holiday, called the Earth Day Network, founded service projects like A Billion Acts of Green® and the Canopy Project.
The theme of this year’s Earth Day is Protect Our Species. Donate here to help protect endangered species and support their recovery.