Today is the 39th year of environmentalism and activism for Earth Day. Here's what you should know about the green holiday.
- Senator Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin, is responsible for the first official Earth Day in 1970. He was inspired by the the anti-Vietnam War "teach-ins" that were taking place on college campuses across the country.
- The idea, though, was first proposed by a businessman in the plastic industry, John McConnell. He became a lifelong activist.
- Conspiracy theorists claim that Earth Day is held on April 22 because it is Lenin's birthday. Not true. According to Kathleen Rogers of the Earth Day Network, the day was selected because it fell on a Wednesday in 1970, as it does today. The organizers figured they would get the most participation on a weekday. It was also a day when students would be on campuses, so the youth-driven movement could have more participation.
- Twenty million people participated in the first Earth Day, and their gatherings embodied the zeitgeist of the 70s. Theatrical protest was used then (check out this photo of a student in a gas mask sniffing a magnolia) and now (Greenpeace's polar bear costumes) to get the message across.
- Since 1970, the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in America has increased 75 percent. We also have more than twice as many cars on the road (but those cars have gotten more efficient).
- Earth Day isn't just an American designation. It's celebrated by 175 countries worldwide.
- The first Earth Day kicked off a decade filled with environmental action. Later that year, the EPA was founded. Many important pieces of environmental legislation were passed that year, among them: 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.
- Arbor Day, which celebrates the planting of trees, falls on the last Friday of every April, which happens to be the same week as Earth Day this year. Despite this, many famous people will plant trees on the more visible Earth Day instead. Check out this gallery of celebs planting trees. (Who knew President Bush planted so many?)
- Earth Day is a day of service, and a great opportunity to get involved in community clean-up projects. Are you looking for an Earth Day event? Check out the Earth Day Network's directory here.
- Many environmentalists, for whom every day is Earth Day, scoff at the holiday. They claim that the mostly symbolic day encourages people to think green for 24 hours, but then return to their wasteful ways on April 23. For more info, check out Grist's "Screw Earth Day" campaign.
Looking for Earth Day advice on Going Green? Start here:
10 Ways to Go Green and Save Cash - No Excuses
Green Resolutions: For the home, office, food, fashion, transportation
4 Ways to Earn Cash for Recycling
9 Ways to Cut Down on Food Waste
Good Guide Helps with Green Shopping
10 Ways to Green Your Laundry and Save Money
5 Tips for Greener School (or Work) Lunches
3 Easy Ways to Green Your Beauty Routine for Earth Day
Easy Green Money-Saving Tip: Get a Library Card