A Teacher's Guide to Earth Day: Environmentally Friendly Lessons and More

Earth Day is meant to inspire people and to get people involved in the appreciation and awareness for the natural environment of the Earth. US Senator Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day. The very first Earth Day was an environmental teach-in that was held on April 22, 1970. An organization led by Denis Hayes took Earth Day to international levels in 1990.

Earth Day Explained

Today, Earth Day is coordinated on a global level by the Earth Day Network. It is celebrated in 175 countries across the world each and every year. The entire week of activities that are centered on environmental issues is referred to as Earth Week, with Earth Day usually sitting right in the middle of the week. Many communities celebrate Earth Week, and in 2009, the United Nations declared April 22 as International Mother Earth Day.

Earth Day Origins

US Senator Gaylord Nelson replied to environmental degradation of a widespread sort by calling for a teach-in that was first held on April 22, 1970. Nelson took the lead in coordinating efforts for what was to become the first Earth Day, wishing to show some political support for an environmental agenda. Nelson used the effective Vietnam teach-ins of the era to copy his own format for the first Earth Day. Nelson chose a model that featured a grassroots and decentralized effort so that each, individual community was able to form their action around their local issues.

The idea for the Earth Day concept struck Nelson after he took a journey to Santa Barbara in the aftermath of the 1969 oil spill off of the coast there. As a result, Nelson had the idea of suggesting a national teach-in regarding the environment to be honored by university campuses of the US, because there was a lack of interest coming from Washington in addressing the situation. In Seattle on September 20, 1969, Nelson announced his plans for a nationwide teach-in day while speaking to a conservation group. Environmental activist Denis Hayes, a graduate student at Harvard, wanted to go to Washington to get involved, but he was asked to quit Harvard and instead organize the Earth Day efforts for the US. Hayes proceeded to become a widely renowned environmental activist.

Earth Day History

In 1970, some students found themselves at Columbia University to hear Hayes talk, concerning his plans for Earth Day. Among said students were William Hubbard, Kristin Hubbard, Pete Grannis, and Fred Kent. These people cooperated with the need to head up the New York efforts for Earth Day. Their efforts culminated when New York Mayor Lindsay shut down New York City’s 5th avenue for the Earth Day celebrations.

Philadelphia in 1970 was also the site of significant progress with regards to Earth Day. Earth Day 1970 gave rise to the concept of Earth Week. Earth Week was the brainchild of students at the University of Pennsylvania along with teachers, businessmen, and grass roots organizations that were concerned about environmental activism and also Nelson’s call for the environmental teach-in. Philadelphia’s Earth Week Committee realized that only devoting a day to environmental causes would not be sufficient to cover all areas, which is why Earth Week is now usually the week preceding Earth Day.

As a result of all these simultaneous efforts, the first Earth Day in 1970 was quite successful. 1970’s Earth Day included participants in 2000 universities and colleges as well as hundreds of US communities. Nelson claimed that Earth Day had the success it did because of grass roots efforts. He also asserted that Earth Day convinced US legislators that the environmental movement has a large constituency.

Celebrating Earth Day

Earth Day commonly occurs on April 22 of every year. It is celebrated in any number of ways, but all of them tie into the environmental message that is at the core of the Earth Day ideology. Planting trees is one of the most common and popular ways to celebrate Earth Day, especially since the date falls close to Arbor Day. Similarly, Earth Day can also be celebrated at school or at home by simply building of nature crafts such as bird houses and the like. The possibilities are quite endless, as long as celebrations raise awareness about the environment.

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