How did Earth Day really begin? |

How did Earth Day really begin?

by Jonni Hill, Special to the R-C

According to the calendar, Earth Day is always celebrated on April 22, but this is not the actual date of its conception.

According to, the United Nations determined that Earth Day is to be celebrated on the day of the Spring or Vernal Equinox which occurs between the 19th and 22nd of March each year.

The Spring Equinox and the Fall Equinox are the two times in our calendar year when the sun gives us 12 hours of daylight and an equal amount of night. The Spring Equinox represents a time of renewal and growth giving it significance for a day of renewal for humanity and the planet that gives us life.

The first observance of Earth Day in the United States, took place April 22, 1970, at the behest of Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin.

Earth Day was originally the concept of John McConnell. The son of an independent evangelist, McConnell devoted his life and studies to the common good of the world population. His interest in religion, science, and world peace has resulted in a number of projects and personal efforts to relieve the human suffering and promote the common good of mankind.

In 1939, McConnell met Albert Nobell, no relation to the founder of the Nobel Prize. Nobell was a chemist. McConnell and Nobell founded the Nobell Research Foundation in Los Angeles where their laboratory developed a thermosetting plastic, and designed the first plastic plant on the West Coast for its manufacture. Concern for conservation led to development of a plastic using walnut shells. Through other research in the laboratory, seeking uses for waste products, Mr. McConnell’s concern for ecology grew.

Through the years, McConnell forged his thoughts into projects which would promote his belief in a unified planet and the protection of it’s life giving wealth. His life was dedicated to projects like “Meals for Millions” which he founded in 1962 when he formulated and organized a successful campaign in San Francisco to feed thousands of Hong Kong refugees. In 1963 he pushed his humanitarian cause further with the concept of a “Minute for Peace” program by obtaining global attention and participation in a Minute for Peace broadcast which on Dec. 22, 1963, ended the period of mourning for President Kennedy.

On June 26, 1965, the 20th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter, Secretary General U Thant spoke for “Minute for Peace” on world-wide radio. McConnell projected his Earth Day concept and an Earth Day Proclamation in 1969-1970 when he spoke at the 1969 National UNESCO Conference in San Francisco. Here, he proposed an Earth Day, a day to celebrate Earth’s life and beauty and to alert earthlings to the need to preserving and renewing the threatened ecological balances upon which all life on Earth depends. It would also be a day when all of humanity would come together in a common cause with no political or religious boundaries of separation.

McConnell further proposed the day for this event to be the moment of the Spring Equinox as that would be the time when all things would be totally equal on Earth. March 21, 1971, U.N. Secretary General U Thant made Earth Day official by ringing the peace bell at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City and reading the Earth Day Proclamation.

It was also at this time when McConnell designed the universal Earth Day flag. After seeing the first photograph of the Earth which had been sent from space and reproduced in Life Magazine, McConnell sought permission for the reproduction of the photograph to be used for the uniting of his common cause. Intended as a universal symbol, his first 500 flags were produced in a hurry so they could be used at the “Moon Watch” event in Central Park, New York where they celebrated the first landing on the Moon on 20 July 1969. Earth Day 1979 was observed in the New York headquarters of the United Nations in cooperation with the Year of the Child with several hundred children streaming across the street into the United Nations grounds and waving small flags which portrayed the Earth as seen from space on a dark blue background.

The reasons for the change to April 22 as the day of designation are vague at best. The 89 year old author of the Earth Day proclamation centers the reason around the Christian population and the proximity to Easter. As explained by John McConnell in some of his writing, “Although Easter varies as to its date each year, it seems to be generally around mid to late April every year. While people of all religions and no religion celebrate the real Earth Day, which is the March Equinox, it especially appeals to Christians, because the centerpiece of Earth Day provides a powerful moment of opportunity for Christians, as well as others, to join in silent prayer and dedication to the care of the Earth.”