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Where Did Earth Day Come From?

By Samantha-Rae Tuthill, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
April 22, 2014; 6:09 AM ET

April 22, 2014 marks the 44th celebration of Earth Day. This global recognition of the importance of environmental consciousness is typically credited to the efforts of three men- Senator Gaylord Nelson, activist Denis Hayes and activist John McConnell.

Photo courtesy of Tomasz Domagala

At a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization conference in San Francisco in 1969, environmental activist John McConnell introduced the concept of Earth Day. He proposed a day where people would raise awareness for ways to preserve Earth's natural resources and protect its species, as well as celebrate the beauty of the planet. His idea gained immediate support, and the first Earth Day took place in a few cities on March 21, 1970.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, senator Gaylord Nelson was working on a separate plan for raising environmental awareness.

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According to the Nelson Earth Day website, he got his idea after observing college students protesting against the Vietnam War. It was watching these students come together to bring attention to their cause that lead Senator Nelson to the idea of creating a massive, cross-country awareness demonstration for the benefit of the environment. His event had millions of participants and was first held on April 22, 1970. It has been observed on April 22 ever since. Not only did Nelson want to focus on protecting the environment, but he included ideas about world hunger and poverty as well.

In a first Earth Day address he gave in Denver, he said, "Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all living creatures."

Senator Nelson addresses the Denver rally. Photo courtesy of NelsonEarthDay.com

The national coordinator of Nelson's Earth Day was an environmental activist named Denis Hayes. Since he had such great success organizing the event across the country, he, along with others who helped him coordinate the day, founded the Earth Day Network. This group works year round to create and increase programs for environmental education on local, state, national and global levels. It also helps to coordinate and maintain specific Earth Day events, among other efforts.

Today, Earth Day is observed in 192 countries. Whether it's a massive public rally, a private event, or an individual contribution, there are many ways to participate. Efforts can range from organizing environmental fundraisers, to planting a tree, to taking care to use less water and paying extra attention to how many lights are left on. For ideas on what you can do to help, visit the Earth Day Network website.

Photo courtesy of Comstock

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