Since its inception, Earth Day has been a rallying call for environmental stewards around the world to actively promote and educate their fellow citizens on the environment, all the while impacting their communities and contributing to global sustainability. Looking back on 40 successful years, we see how its various phases developed into the hugely international commemoration that we know today as Earth Day.
From 1970 to 1990, Earth Day focused primarily on a variety of events, mobilizing individuals and organizations from Africa to China to demonstrate their commitment to protecting the planet. As its 20th anniversary approached, in 1990, a group of environmental leaders asked Denis Hayes, Earth Day's first national coordinator, to organize another big campaign. For the first time, Earth Day went "Global", mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental awareness onto the world stage. Earth Day 1990 gave a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and helped pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It also prompted President Bill Clinton to award Senator Gaylord Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1995) -- the highest honor given to civilians in the United States -- for his role as Earth Day founder.
As the millennium approached, Hayes agreed to spearhead another campaign, this time focused on global warming and a push for clean energy. With 5,000 environmental groups in a record 184 countries, reaching out to hundreds of millions of people, Earth Day 2000 combined the big-picture campus movement and celebratory nature of the first Earth Day with the international grassroots activism of Earth Day 1990. It used the Internet to organize activists, but also featured a talking drum chain that traveled from village to village in Gabon, Africa, and hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Earth Day 2000 sent world leaders the loud and clear message that citizens around the world wanted quick and decisive action on clean energy.
Since the turn of the century, Earth Day's international profile has grown considerably. In 2010, Morocco hosted the first state-sponsored Earth Day celebration on the African continent, with activities that ranged from school greenings to celebrity-studded musical festivals. With an active focus in India, Earth Day Network had a presence in 17 cities, with global and local NGOs and local government officials coordinating city and village clean-ups, environmental rallies and educational programs. In response to the success of Earth Day 2010, Earth Day Network established a permanent India program with staff in Kolkata.
Today, Earth Day Network continues its year-long global programs, as well as Earth Day commemorative events, to bring environmental awareness to people around the world. As Jose Maria Figueres, former Costa Rican president and Earth Day 2010 Global Advisory Council Member, has declared: "When it comes to the challenge of climate change, we must succeed with Plan A, as there is no Planet B!" Together with its 22,000 partners Earth Day's International Programs continue to raise environmental awareness around the world so that Earth Day is truly every day!