How Earth Day started, where it’s at and where it’s going


A look back at the history of Earth Day, within the context of the eco movement, gives reasons for optimism #earthday2024

Looking back, it’s amazing to realize that the global phenomenon that is Earth Day today was first started back in 1970 by US Senator Gaylord Nelson. More than 50 years later, many still think of environmentalism as a recent trend. 

But while there’s a deep history to the earth and its climate, around the world today people have generally woken up to the urgency of preserving our environment. That’s just one of the legacies of the environmental movement, galvanized by movements like Earth Day.

And while it’s easy to get eco-anxiety when looking at current environmental trends (ZenSeekers’ Jim Barr explored the effect, and some cures for it, in this 2019 article), the history of Earth Day and some of the milestones over the last 50 years give us reason for optimism today.

Tofino TribalParks British Columbia Meares Island Trail KylerVos ZenSeekers
Photo: Kyler Vos
Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation's Tribal Park Allies program has been protecting Vancouver Island old growth forest since the 1980s.
Origins of Earth Day: April 22, 1970

Over 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day in 1970, as the movement galvanized students and the larger community in rallies, marches and teach-ins, according to

Also notable according to the site was that it united both US Republicans and Democrats in environmental action, and led to the founding of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

1990 - 2000: Earth Day goes global

In 1990, seeking to generate a bigger reach, a group of environmental leaders engaged Denis Hayes (the lead organizer for the 1970 events) to take the movement global. That year over 200 million people in 141 countries participated ( 

By 2000, with new digital technologies connecting the world unlike never before, reports that over 5000 environmental groups in 184 countries were involved. 

Today: the modern environmental movement

According to, the movement has now engaged over one billion people and 190 countries in eco-initiatives. 

More broadly, Earth Day established a foundation for the environmental movement that continues today.

Gabriola Lands and Trails Trust Gabriola Island BC Melissa Renwick ZenSeekers
Photo: Logan Moore
Members of the Gabriola Land and Trails Trust, on a group outing.

While the effects of climate change and global warming are becoming ever more concerning, as floods, fires and droughts ravage different parts of the globe, there is still cause for hope. 

Consider: the eco movement inspired the Endangered Species Act which today helps us monitor and implement protections for wildlife. More recently, efforts to reduce plastic use are taking hold in communities around the world. And (admittedly one of my personal favourites) the push to shift from fuel-powered vehicles to alternate modes of transportation, like cycling, walking and transit to reduce human impacts. 

But perhaps the most significant success to date is that the ozone layer, which was rapidly depleting in the 80s and 90s and a cause for alarm, is reportedly now healing

That didn’t happen by chance, it resulted from actions taken under the Montreal Protocol (1987), an international initiative similar to the recent Paris Agreement (2015). 

Here’s how United Nations Executive Secretary (UNEP Ozone Secretariat) Meg Seki put it: 

“In the face of a triple planetary crisis – climate, nature and pollution - the Montreal Protocol is one of the best examples we have of the positive and powerful outcome of multilateralism.”

“When sound science is the basis for universal action, we can overcome what may seem insurmountable global environmental challenges.” 


What that means, in plain terms, is that as a global community we can and have worked together to avert extreme natural consequences before. It didn’t come without hard work and behavioural change, but it has happened and that means it is possible we can do it again, if we all pull together. 

This Earth Day 2024, let’s let that be our inspiration to take action.

Learn more, take action

Explore for info on events and actions you can take for Earth Day 2024 and year round. 

Earth Day Events provides a map of events across the world, with event listings to help you find the information for your local Earth Day event. 

There are community cleanups and celebration events taking place across both Alberta and BC, including: 


British Columbia

If you can’t participate live, tune in for Earth Day Virtual Events here.

And, to keep the good earth vibes going year round, grab yourself the Earth Day 2024 Toolkit or explore the website to learn how you can help, including engaging in climate advocacy, assisting as a citizen scientist, planting trees or participating in community cleanups.

For more on the history of Earth Day, check out

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