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The History of Earth Day

Today is Earth Day. The holiday was founded in the year 1970 as a day for education about environmental issues. The idea for Earth Day came from US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. He was inspired by the anti-Vietnam War “teach-ins” taking place on college campuses. He announced the Earth Day concept at a Seattle conference and invited the nation to get involved. Denis Hayes, a young activist and former Student President at Stanford University, was selected to coordinate Earth Day and worked with student volunteers across the nation – along with Nelson’s staff – to organize the project. The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970 and included rallies in cities all across the country. The project was successful in raising awareness about environmental issues; in fact, several key pieces of environmental protection legislation were passed in the decade that followed the first Earth Day, including the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established in 1970. Earth Day continues to be important today and is now a global event; in fact, it is the largest secular civil event in the world, with over 1 billion people taking part in various ways.

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