You may remember from elementary school a little holiday that, while not exactly known for passing around gifts or candy, was still important because it interrupted regular classroom programming so that you could spend the day making crafts from recycled toilet paper rolls and watching nature documentaries: Earth Day. It was a big deal back then, but it might not be marked on your calendar now that you're a fancy adult — when is Earth Day 2016 exactly, and why is it even important? You already make it a point to reduce, reuse, and recycle on a daily basis (see, those Earth Day parties of yesteryear really were important), and shouldn't we spend the entire year reflecting on our planet's health, rather than just a single day?
I totally hear you, so let's break it down a little bit, shall we? Earth Day 2016 is on April 22, which for those of you keeping track, is a Friday, meaning you'll probably be at the office focused more on what your plans for the weekend are rather than what your plans for reducing your carbon footprint are. I'm right there with you — which is why I did a little digging to figure out what Earth Day is even, and why I should care. Here are six facts that might make you rethink the way you see this holiday.
1. Earth Day has been around for almost 50 years
The first official Earth Day celebration took place in 1970, and was the brainchild of Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson. Troubled by a massive oil spill that took place in Santa Barbara, Calif., the year before, along with Americans' growing blind eye when it came to matters of pollution, waste, and other environmental concerns, Nelson hoped to raise awareness and rally Americans by hosting Earth Day-focused events all over the country. The first year, more than 20 million people participated in marches and protests in opposition to matters like wide-spread pollution, use of pesticides, and oil spills.
2. It's become a global holiday
Although Earth Day started in the States, it is now observed worldwide by more than one billion people in 192 different countries.
3. You may have heard of it by another name, too
In 2009, the UN officially changed Earth Day's title to International Mother Earth Day as a way to give it more global appeal.
4. Earth Day is one of the reasons why we have the Environmental Protection Agency
Earth Day's popularity was one of the key contributors in rallying support for the creation of the EPA in 1970. Cool, huh?
5. Earth Day is responsible for the planting of more than one billion trees
In honor of Earth Day's 40th anniversary in 2010, the Earth Day Network started a campaign to plant one billion trees around the world. It achieved this goal in 2012.
6. It's still an incredibly important day to raise awareness
Currently, the average American produces four pounds of garbage and consumes 100 gallons of water a day. While recycling has gone way up in the last 30 years (around 34 percent in 2011), our views on how the planet is faring are still disheartening. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 42 percent of Americans said they believed the seriousness of global warming was "generally exaggerated." The intentions behind the first Earth Day celebration — to make people more conscious of the impact we're having on our environment each and every day — is just as relevant now as it was in 1970.
So how can you celebrate Earth Day as an adult? It's almost just as easy as when you were in elementary school. For one thing, educate yourself on the stats currently affecting our world. When you see the actual numbers in front of you, it's kind of hard to not want to make at least some sort of difference. Then, consider hitting up a local Earth Day event near you. The Earth Day Network makes it easy to find public Earth Day events in your town, and there really is something for everyone, whether it's just planting a tree, or walking in an Earth Day 5k to raise money for an environmental cause. Just make sure to do something. Recycling is a good move, but it's only just a start.
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