It was a catastrophe with terrible consequences for the environment: In 1969, more than 12 million liters of oil seeped into the sea from a well on an oil drilling platform near the coastal city of Santa Barbara in the US state of California for ten days. More than 3,000 seabirds and marine animals died, and around 45 kilometers of coastline was contaminated. The public outrage sparked by the oil spill, which received extensive media coverage in the United States, led to numerous environmental laws in the years that followed. And it inspired then-Senator Gaylord Nelson of the US state of Wisconsin to create a national environmental day of action – now known as Earth Day.

Nelson was known for his work in the environmental field. At that time, however, it was also the student anti-war movement that impressed the senator. He wanted to combine the energy of these protests with the emerging public awareness of air and water pollution. Together with Pete McCloskey, an environmentalist Republican congressman, he recruited Denis Hayes. The young activist was supposed to organize teach-ins on college campuses. The day chosen was April 22nd, then a weekday that fell between spring break and final exams. The aim was to achieve the greatest possible student participation.

But Hayes recognized the potential of the issue and built a national staff of 85 people to promote the events across the country. Now celebrated as Earth Day, the day inspired 20 million Americans – then 10 percent of the total population of the United States – to take to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate against the impact of 150 years of industrial development had left a growing legacy with serious impacts on human health. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against environmental degradation, and there were massive rallies in cities and towns from coast to coast.

Today, Earth Day is celebrated around the world in more than 175 countries. In Germany it is celebrated in educational institutions, schools and universities, companies, associations, churches and at public events. A large number of organizations, institutions and municipalities are taking part.

Sources:,, “Googlewatchblog”