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Earth Day Past, Present & Future

Since 1970, people around the world have gathered to celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd. Thanks to the vision of Gaylord Nelson, Senator of Wisconsin and millions of young people at the time. These young activists are now Baby Boomers. Earth Day created a massive culture shift and helped move forward the creation of the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and many other landmark environmental laws.

Civic action matters. Election matter. Your voice matters.

Earth Day 1970 in Philly. Photo Credit: AP/Shutterstock

As I staffer for Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, I had the distinct pleasure to meet Senator Nelson. He was 88 years young when we met and he told me that he became an environmentalist by "osmosis" during his childhood adventures exploring his home town of Clear Lake, Wisconsin. Nelson not only inspired Earth Day, but also served as governor and a U.S senator from his beloved Wisconsin. After politics, he was a board member and advisor to the nonprofit Wilderness Society for years.

Senator Gaylord Nelson Photo Credit: AP/Shutterstock

After witnessing an oil spill in Santa Barbara in 1969, Nelson was moved by the hundreds of volunteers helping with the clean up. On the flight back home, he read an article about the student protests in Vietnam. He was determined to get the nation to wake up and pay attention to the most important challenge the human species faces on the planet."

Nelson encouraged his Senate staff to reach out to college campuses and model the teach-ins of the antiwar movement to ignite a "unity of purpose" in the environmental movement.

He recruited activist Denis Hayes to help make this concept a reality. In 1970, more than 20 million Americans -10% of the U.S. population at the time- and 2000 college campuses participated in the first Earth Day.

Denis Hayes in 1970. Photo Credit: AP/Shutterstock

Now more than 200 million people around the world observe Earth Day.

As Nelson eloquently stated, our collective work in environmental health and conservation relies on the "mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures." Creating solutions for the enormous environmental challenges we face -- global warming, species extinction, and plastic pollution -- will require fundamental respect.

Earth Day Today

In 2023, Earth Day events are being planned in more than 170 countries and will engage and reach more than one billion people across the globe. According to the Earth Day Network, Earth Day is the largest secular event in the world. Check out to learn more about activities planned in your neighborhood.

Earth Day is more than a day; it's a movement.

We need to understand that our commitment to climate action creates culture change. This culture change is essential for climate policy solutions to work.

Earth Day of the Future

Take a few minutes to think about what Earth Day could look like in 2050. What if we get it right? What if we make the global changes in policy and markets and transform how we produce energy? What if we create something beautiful? Check out the OneGreenThing 2030 Visualization Exercise.

Meditate on these images from Parisian architect Vincent Callout. We need to keep focused on what we can create, not just the gloom and doom. We can build a future that the next generation can celebrate.

Senator Gaylord Nelson left this earth with a monumental impact. What will your personal legacy be? How will you pay it forward?

Take the OneGreenThing "Be an Awesome Ancestor" Pledge and make your commitment to future loved ones today.

Ideas to celebrate Earth Day based on Service Superpower:

  • Adventurers: Make a plan to celebrate Earth Day in your community at a local park, school, or park.

  • Beacons: Find out what is going on in your state legislature on the environment. Check out the League of Conservation Voters to find your state league and speak up for the issues you care about.

  • Influencers: Share the #OneGreenThing Challenge. Encourage friends to take the Service Superpower Assessment and download their 7-day action plan.

  • Philanthropists: Make a monthly recurring donation or volunteer for the green nonprofit organization of your choice. We'd love for you to consider supporting OneGreenThing.

  • Sages: Remind the young people you love about the changes that happened in the 1970s to create the fundamental environmental laws we now enjoy. There is hope!

  • Sparks: Join a friend at an Earth Day Rally or event.

  • Wonks: Share your favorite household climate solution - reducing food waste, improving energy efficiency, or going plastic-free -- with family and friends.


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