Follow the movement’s 52-year-old history and learn how to #InvestInOurPlanet.

By Pierina D’Amico

On January 28, 1969, a well blew out in the coast of Santa Barbara, California, United States. It spewed over three million gallons of oil, killing more than 10,000 animals. At the time, it was the largest oil spill off the country’s coast in history.

Winsconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson happened to be flying over it as it spread into the ocean. Seeing the disaster from a plane window, he decided it was time to raise awareness about environmental issues on a nationwide scale.

Together with activist Denis Hayes, he coordinated the first “Earth Day” on April 22, 1970. Originally, it was supposed to be about environmental teach-ins on college campuses, which is why the date was chosen around students’ schedules. However, Hayes realized the movement could be bigger and targeted the country as a whole.

And it worked. Around 20 million people poured into the streets to support the cause. Over the years, this prompted the passing of various environmental laws in the country and increased citizen engagement in planet-friendly activities.

In 1980, Canada joined, and in 1990, the movement went global. With 200 million people mobilizing in 141 countries, it was clear the world was becoming aware that we needed to take better care of our planet.

This international success paved the way for the United Nations (UN) General Assembly to declare April 22 as “International Mother Earth Day” in 2009. Through Resolution A/RES/63/278, the organization expressed its conviction “that in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social, and environmental needs of present and future generations, it is necessary to promote harmony with nature and the Earth.”

In one of the movement’s greatest achievements, the Paris Agreement was opened for signature on April 22, 2016. This international treaty, which covers climate change mitigation, adaptation and finance, was signed by 195 countries and ratified by 193. Notably, the agreement articulates the commitment of nations to limit global temperature rise to less than 2 °C over pre-industrial levels.

On its 50th anniversary in 2020, Earth Day found itself amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Far from letting the virus stop them, organizers pivoted from in-person to digital activism in what was called the largest online mass mobilization in history, gathering tens of millions of people in 2 days.

This year, Earth Day’s theme is #InvestInOurPlanet. If you want to be part of the movement, you can try:

  • Tuning into Earth Day Live
  • Joining the Global Earth Challenge
  • Plogging – picking up trash while jogging!
  • Switching to reusable bags
  • Composting
  • Switching to online billing
  • Buying local food
  • Eating less meat
  • Practicing sustainable fashion

For more information on these and other simple ways to invest in our planet, click here. Happy Earth Day!


How the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill sparked Earth Day, KCRW, 21 April 2017

A proposal reprinted across the country, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, 18 April 2010

The History of Earth Day, EARTHDAY.ORG, 2 July 2021

International Mother Earth Day : resolution / adopted by the General Assembly, United Nations Digital Library, 22 April 2009

Why Earth Day is more important than ever, UN Environment Programme, 21 April 2020

What Is Earth Day Live? The Largest Online Mass Mobilization in History, Union of Concerned Scientists, 16 April 2020

The 50th Anniversary Of Earth Day Unites Tens Of Millions Of People Across The World In Action And A Multi-Platform Event, PR News Wire, 24 April 2020

Earth Day 2022 – Invest In Our Planet, EARTHDAY.ORG, 6 April 2022

Paris Agreement, Wikipedia, 6 April 2022

Earth Day, Wikipedia, 29 March 2022

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