40 Years of Earth Day

How Earth Day got its start

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Earth Day is a global holiday that celebrates our planet's environment. Every year on April 22, people host events to highlight the importance of preserving the Earth.

Earth Day celebrations increase awareness of issues like global warming, oil spills and water and land conservation. The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970. Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin started the holiday. Nelson was worried that industrialized countries, like the United States, were too careless with the environment.

After an oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969, Nelson proposed several reforms or changes. One idea was to hold a national annual Earth Day.

Denis Hayes organized the first Earth Day. Hayes went on to lead the Solar Energy Research Institute in Golden, Colorado. John McConnell designed the unofficial flag of the event, the Earth Flag.

More than 20 million Americans celebrated the first Earth Day. Schools and universities around the nation joined in. Students spent the day learning about the environment and discussing ways to cut down pollution. Concerts in major cities honored the day.

Weeks after the event, Congress passed three laws: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. These laws protect drinking water, wild lands, and animals from abuse by people or companies.

Today more than 500 million people in 175 countries celebrate Earth Day. Students spend the day learning about environmental issues, while activists use the day to rally for new environmental policies.

If you want to get involved in Earth Day and see what you can do to help, check out www.earthday.net.

Kid Reporter Isabelle Quinn talks with Dennis Hayes about organizing the first Earth Day and the importance of celebrating Earth Day everyday.

Kid Reporters blog about going green in their lives and communities. Join the discussion on the Scholastic Kids Press Corps Blog!

EARTH DAY @ 40

Celebrate 40 years of Earth Day and the fight to keep our planet clean on April 22. Scholastic Kid Reporters explore ways to make every day Earth Day in the Earth Day @ 40 Special Report.

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