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Earth Day 2015: 7 Facts You Need To Know About The Holiday's History And Origins

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Living on Earth is pretty great, isn't it? We've got trails to hike, oceans to swim in and Beyonce to listen to. It doesn't get much better than that.

Because the earth has given us so many wonderful things, we should love and cherish it, right? That's where Earth Day comes in.

Earth Day takes place every year on April 22. It's a holiday intended to promote respect for and the conservation of our planet, its atmosphere and all of its living creatures. Yes, that means you, human, but that also includes bats, cacti and plankton, just to name a few.

OK, sounds important enough. But like, everyone knows that you can't just go around tossing garbage out of your car window and you shouldn't leave the lights on when you're not in the room. Everyone's gotten the memo by now that the only way humans will be able to continue to live on Earth is if they're kind to the environment, right?

Not so fast. Even though the news is full of reports about how climate change is negatively impacting the planet to the point of no return, most Americans still rank this threat as a low priority, according to a Pew Research Center poll published in September 2014. What's more, President Barack Obama continues to face opposition from Congress on his Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution by 30 percent by 2030. Some politicians even deny that climate change exists at all.

As you can see, we still have a long way to go before the teachings of Earth Day are universally accepted and practiced. Perhaps learning about Earth Day's history and origins will inspire you to make a difference during this year's holiday and every day thereafter.

1. What is Earth Day?

Earth Day is not a federal holiday, but it is a national observance that falls on April 22 every year. Earth Day is meant to be a day to celebrate our planet and raise awareness of the need to love, protect and respect it. However, Earth Day isn't just celebrated in the United States, which is both fitting and a relief since we all have a responsibility in protecting this planet. It is the largest civic event in the world, according to Earth Day Network's website.

2. Why was it created?

Before the 1960s, being environmentally conscious basically didn't exist. That was until Rachel Carson published her best-selling book Silent Spring in 1962, which brought attention to the dangers of using pesticides and gave impetus for the environmental movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. However, it was a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif. in 1969 that put the creation of Earth Day in motion in an effort to raise political and public awareness of the need for environmental conservation.

3. Who started it?

Earth Day was created by Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin after learning about the devastating effects of that Santa Barbara oil spill, according to Earth Day Network's website. He was inspired by the anti-Vietnam War "teach-ins" taking place on college campuses at the time and the grassroots nature of the movement to try and hoist environmental protection onto the national agenda. Nelson convinced Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey to serve as his co-chair and appointed Denis Hayes, a young activist, as national coordinator.

4. When Did Earth Day begin?

The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970, and it has been an annual celebration ever since.

5. What was the first Earth Day like?

Thanks to a lot of publicity from the media, the first Earth Day was a big hit. About 20 million Americans took to the streets, college campuses and parks in support of the very first Earth Day. Rallies were held in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C. and most other American cities, according to History.com. Famed anthropologist and environmentalist Margaret Mead spoke at the first Earth Day, in addition to actors Paul Newman and Ali McGraw and singer Pete Seeger lending their support.

6. What did the first Earth Day accomplish?

It didn't take very long for the organizers of the first Earth Day to see the fruits of their labor. Congress authorized the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in December 1970, just eight months after the first Earth Day had been held, according to the Earth Day Network website. The first Earth Day also led to the passage of several pieces of conservation legislation, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

7. How can you celebrate Earth Day today?

Now that you know what Earth Day is all about, you can start thinking about what you're going to do for this year's holiday. There are plenty of Earth Day events and activities planned for the big day around the country and the world. You can find one near you over on the Earth Day Network's website. There's also no better way to celebrate Earth Day than to do some volunteer work to help keep the Earth in great shape. You can find volunteer opportunities near you at AllForGood.org. If you still want to participate in Earth Day but don't have the time or resources to participate on a large scale, you can always just stay informed about the current issues facing our planet. Keep up with the news, find out what pending climate change legislation is all about and just know what's happening to our planet so you can help protect it for generations to come.

Related: Celebrate Earth Day With These Natural Health and Beauty Products 

Photo: Andrés Nieto Porras | Flickr 

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