The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970 and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement. After witnessing the devastation of the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, was inspired to mobilize citizens to force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Nelson persuaded Pete McCloskey, a fellow congressman, to serve as his co-chair and recruited Denis Hayes as national coordinator. Hayes built a national staff of 85 to promote Earth Day events across the country. On the first Earth Day, 20 million Americans took to the streets to demand protection for the environment. In 1990, Hayes organized another campaign and focused his efforts globally. His campaign mobilized 200 million people in 141 countries. Earth Day was transformed from an annual national event to an annual global celebration.
Since the first Earth Day, several groundbreaking laws have passed including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. The Earth Day Network (EDN) now works with over 22,000 partners in 192 countries to broaden and mobilize the environmental movement. And, more than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making Earth Day the largest civic observance in the world.
The sense of urgency to create sustainable solutions to environmental problems is perhaps greater than ever before. Below are a few of Global Washington members working to protect our planet. More information can be found on our Member Map.
- EarthCorps: EarthCorps’ mission is to build global community through local environmental service. They convene young adults who are passionate about the environment for a year-long leadership training program in Seattle. Corps members learn to work collaboratively, lead community volunteers and execute environmental projects, and spend their days improving the health of the Puget Sound by returning urban forests, shorelines and salmon streams back to thriving ecosystems. EarthCorps’ goal is to build a community of young leaders who will take the information they learn through the program and apply it in their own way to help the planet and their community.
- PeaceTrees VietNam: PeaceTrees VietNam is a humanitarian organization dedicated to healing communities affected by the Vietnam War and building bridges between the U.S. and Vietnam. They fulfill their mission by restoring Vietnamese land that was devastated by war as they strive to make the land safe for children to play, for farmers to till the soil and for families to build homes. This is done through the clearance of unexploded land mines, which makes the land safe for everyone. PeaceTrees also organizes Citizen Diplomacy trips in which Americans travel to Vietnam to plant trees with Vietnamese people and help restore the land to its natural, beautiful state.
- Snow Leopard Trust: The Snow Leopard Trust builds community partnerships to help protect the endangered snow leopard species, of which there are between 4,000 and 6,500 big cats left in the wild today. With programs and staff in five countries in Central Asia, the Trust conducts research to help develop the most effective conservation techniques. Researchers in the field constantly monitor the changing needs of snow leopard populations to ensure that solutions are relevant and effective, allowing snow leopards and local communities to live in harmony. The organization also works closely with local communities to create incentives to protect local wildlife, such as livestock insurance to reimburse herders who lose income generating animals to snow leopard predation.
Visit earthday.org to learn more about the history of Earth Day and what you can do to help.