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Take a trip back to 1970 when Earth Day was first held

Every year people across the world celebrate Earth Day on 22 April, a movement that started in the US nearly 50 years ago in the spring of 1970 - discover more about that momentous day.

Save your Earth

Earth Day was founded by US senator Gaylord Nelson, who was moved into taking action following a 1969 oil spill in California.

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© Spencer Grant/Getty Images
© Spencer Grant/Getty Images

The smell of prosperity

Up until the 1970s, industry in the US was free to pollute the air and dump their waste with little fear of the consequences. In fact air pollution was accepted as the “smell of prosperity”.d

© Bill Peters/The Denver Post via Getty Images
© Bill Peters/The Denver Post via Getty Images

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The beginning of a movement

Senator Nelson wanted to use the energy of the anti-Vietnam War movement along with the growing concern about the effects of pollution into galvanising the government to make permanent changes to its environmental policy.

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20 million march

On 22 April 1970 more than 20 million Americans lined the streets in rallies across the country.

© John G. White/The Denver Post via Getty Images
© John G. White/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The air we breathe

They joined mass rallies to protest against everything that affected the environment; from the pollution in the air that was choking their daily lives…

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© Bettmann/Getty Images

The water we drink

…to the waste that was damaging the rivers and waterways.

© Bettmann/Getty Images
© Bettmann/Getty Images

From coast to coast

They marched on the streets of cities such as Philadelphia…

© Dick Darrell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
© Dick Darrell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Nation to nation

…and were joined by their neighbours in Canada.

© John G. White/The Denver Post via Getty Images
© John G. White/The Denver Post via Getty Images

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A national teach-in

Senator Nelson wanted to create a “national teach-in on the environment” with thousands of colleges and universities organising protests and events to highlight the dangers facing the environment.

© George Mattson/NY Daily News via Getty Images
© George Mattson/NY Daily News via Getty Images

Party politics pushed aside

In a rare sight of unity, Earth Day brought both Republicans and Democrats together to fight for a common goal. Here Governor Nelson Rockefeller of the Republican Party cycles the streets of New York to show his support.

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A show of unity

It wasn’t just politicians that banded together. Earth Day brought people from all walks of life under one banner, no matter if they were rich or poor, old or young, lived in the city or countryside, or were business tycoons or union leaders.

© Santi Visalli/Getty Images
© Santi Visalli/Getty Images

Going green

By the end of 1970 it wasn’t just the people who were going green – it was the government. Earth Day had made significant changes to the way US government acted towards the environment, creating the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passing the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.

© Spencer Grant/Getty Images
© Spencer Grant/Getty Images

Peaceful protest

The police were prepared and vigilant, but the event passed peacefully with few arrests.

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© Bettmann/Getty Images

A potent symbol

The gas mask and flower served as a potent symbol for Earth Day. The gas mask represented the way we would all have to breathe in the future, while the flower showed us something we were unlikely ever to see again.

© Santi Visalli/Getty Images
© Santi Visalli/Getty Images

A date for our destiny

Earth Day falls annually on 22 April, a date that was chosen because it landed in between spring break and exam season, meaning students were more likely to attend. The good weather of late spring was an added bonus.

© Santi Visalli/Getty Images
© Santi Visalli/Getty Images

The legacy continues

Today the movement is said to involve one billion people fighting climate change to make the world a better place for future generations, making it the biggest secular observance in the world.

In recognition of his work Senator Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award in 1995, the highest civilian award bestowed by the USA.


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