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Breakdown: Why is Earth Day celebrated on April 22 every year?

Earth Day is a time to turn our attention toward the environment and raise awareness about threats to its well-being, from air pollution to climate change.
Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 8:06 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Earth Day 2022 is April 22, and this year marks the 52nd anniversary of this celebration.

But why does Earth Day fall on April 22 every year? Is there any significance to the date?

Earth Day was founded in 1970 and was inspired in part by Arbor Day, a tree-planting event that was organized by Nebraska native Julius Sterling Morton in 1872.

The brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson and inspired by the protests of the 1960s, Earth Day began as a “national teach-in on the environment” by raising public awareness of pollution, Nelson hoped to bring environmental causes into the national spotlight.

The April 22 date was selected in part to maximize the number of students that could be reached on university campuses as this date it fell between colleges’ spring break and final exams.

Approximately one million people participated in the first Earth Day celebrations in New York...
Approximately one million people participated in the first Earth Day celebrations in New York City.(NYC Dept. of Records and Information Services)

According to EarthDay.org, Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders. By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other first of their kind environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act. Two years later Congress passed the Clean Water Act. A year after that, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act and soon after the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. These laws have protected millions of men, women and children from disease and death and have protected hundreds of species from extinction.

By 1990, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage.

Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest honor given to civilians in the United States — for his role as Earth Day founder.

President Clinton awarded Gaylord Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's...
President Clinton awarded Gaylord Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1995 on the 25th anniversary of Earth Day.(www.nelsonearthday.net)

Today, Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behavior and create global, national and local policy changes.

The Earth Day 2022 theme is Invest In Our Planet. To learn more about the movement and 52 ways you can Invest In Our Planet, click here.

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