Earth Day 2020 – 50th Anniversary

2020 is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Learn about its history and how to get virtually involved to celebrate!

History & Significance of Earth Day

Earth Day was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson, who was inspired to create a grassroots movement after seeing the damage done by a massive oil spill in 1969.  The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, was a national “teach-in” event focused on educating people about the environment.


Across the U.S., 20 million Americans (10% of the population) took to the streets, to protest pollution of their natural places.  As a result, in December 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a federal agency specialized in tackling environmental issues: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


During the first Earth Day, a Pace College student in a gas mask smells a magnolia blossom in City Hall Park in NY (Image:

The first Earth Day also contributed to amending the 1963 Clean Air Act io include not just research about pollution, but comprehensive federal and state regulations for industrial pollution sources and mobile sources. This amendment also expanded federal enforcement, allowing the EPA to set and uphold environmental.

As Earth Day continued annually, this visual public support for environmental stewardship contributed to the passage of additional environmental protections, including the Clean Water Act (1972) and the Endangered Species Act (1973).

In 1990, Earth Day moved global and was celebrated by 200 million people in 141 countries. This 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 Nelson the 1995 Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest honor given to civilians in the United States) for his role as Earth Day’s founder.


Earth Days in the New Millennium

Earth Day 2010: Earth Day Network launched a campaign to plant 1 billion trees, which was achieved in 2012. They also launched A Billion Acts of Green — the world’s largest environmental service project. 75,000 partners in 192 countries observed Earth Day.

Greta Thunberg sitting with her “School Strike for Climate” sign that inspired over 4 million people to join her. (Click image to learn more . Image:

Earth Day 2016: The Paris Climate Agreement opened for signature.  Now ratified by 189 entities, the Paris Agreement’s goal is to keep planetary warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.5 degrees Fahrenheit) to protect the planet and future generations.

Earth Day 2020: Due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, the 50th  Earth Day has moved digital with a number of campaigns including Earth Challenge 2020 and EarthRise.  Even more online activities and events are are below!



Pitt Earth Day History


As Earth Day has been annually celebrated in the U.S. for 50 years, the University of Pittsburgh has also activated and advanced its environmental and sustainability activities since 1970.

Learn more about Pitt’s commitment to the planet and explore the full timeline here!



2020 Earth Day Virtual Events


April 1 – April 30: Earth Day Ecochallenge: Join the University of Pittsburgh team!

Do something for yourself, your neighbors, and your community while helping us compete in this 30 day environmental and social engagement program for Earth Month. Participants select actions to take daily that align with their values — and make a commitment to complete those actions while reinforcing more sustainable habits. Join the University of Pittsburgh Team to compete nationally with other schools!

April 1 – April 30: Turning Green Classroom

Turning Green Classroom is an interactive web-based platform to inform and inspire students with a 30-day lesson plan with simple, fun, impactful opportunities to dive into and champion environmentally and health-conscious activities.

April 7: Solve Climate by 2030 Virtual Teach-ins on Climate Solutions and Justice

Tune into one of 52 simultaneous, nation-wide, university-hosted webinars focused on how ambitious state and local action can help solve climate change by 2030. Faculty in any discipline can access teachers guides for facilitating online conversations about these webinars.

April 9: Coping with Climate Anxiety in the Classroom and for Yourself: A Workshop for College & University Faculty

This 2-hour online workshop is for faculty to address their own emotions so that we can create and hold space in our classrooms for students to integrate and process hard realities about climate change impacts. The event will also include space for discussing the climate crisis inside of the emergent COVID-19 situation.

April 15 : Leading Through Disruption: A Living Systems Path to Rapid Adaptation. 

Join a free, live, 1-Hour Zoom call with a panel of Living System Thinkers, 2 pm EST. This interactive panel includes Kathy Allen, author of Leading from the Roots; Daniel Lawse, Chief Century Thinker at Verdis Group; and other living system practitioners.

April 17: Animals, Ethics, and the Climate Crisis with David Clough

Between 12-2:15pm EST, learn about the DefaultVeg campaign to implement food policy that can help universities make the shift toward sustainable food choices. The idea is simple: Offer plant-based meals by default, while providing diners the choice to add meat and/or dairy products upon request.

April 19: Pittsburgh Earth Week Teach-In

The 50th Anniversary of Earth Day offers us an opportunity to renew our commitment to our planet. Join a live stream event from 1-4pm where we will declare a climate emergency and call on everyone to help fight the expansion of petrochemicals, industrial pollution and the harm that both inflict on people in our region.

April 21: Engineering for the Environment

At 12pm EST join a panel to discover the possibilities of engineering positive change with global industry change-makers from Dubai Electricity & Water Authority, NREL, Pfizer and NASA.

April 22: 24-Hour Webinar on Happiness & Sustainability Around the Earth

The Sustainable Development Solutions Network is hosting a 24-hour webinar event on Earth Day to explore the UN”s Sustainable Development Goals through the lens of wellbeing and happiness.

April 22: EarthRise Digital Earth Day

Over the 24 hours of Earth Day, EARTHRISE will include global conversations, calls to action, performances, video teach-ins and more.  Coordinated by Earth Day Network, this global digital mobilization will drive actions big and small, give diverse voices a platform, and demand bold action for people and the planet.

April 22-24: Earth Day Strikes

Even if we’re stuck at home, we can still change the world. Join us for three days of action — from teach-ins, musical performances, divestment, and more. All you need is an internet connection.

April 22: Reinforcing Responsible Sourcing

At 12pm EST get a behind the scenes look at how brands like Fitbit, Nike, and Grounded Upcycling are prioritizing sustainability in their supply chains and new initiatives.

April 22: Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy Virtual Earth Day

From 11am to 4pm join the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy for a virtual Earth Day experience with local naturalists.

April 22: The Future of Energy

At 3pm EST learn about the changing landscape of energy in our evolving world with speakers from IPS, NREL, Momentum, and ExxonMobil.

April 22: University of Pittsburgh Earth Day & Conversation 

At 10am EST join Pitt’s Director of Sustainability, Dr. Aurora Sharrard, to learn about Pitt’s sustainability history, followed by invigorating conversation. Bring your own questions, ideas, solutions, and coffee (or other enjoyable morning beverage) to this morning discussion.

April 22: University of Pittsburgh Green Designation Q&A

At 2pm EST join Pitt’s Sustainability Projects Coordinator, Samantha Ford, to learn the entire suite of Pitt Green designations, ask any questions you have about participating or leveling up, and join the cadre of over 70 Pitt offices and laboratories already participating!

April 22: University of Pittsburgh- Be Fit Pitt Workout: Morning Yoga – Special Earth Day Session

At 8:15am EST recognize Earth Day – Grateful for the beautiful cycle of spring’s arrival. Join in for a virtual yoga session that will ground and connect us with the Earth, united as one as we inhale, exhale and relax. This collaboration between Be Fit Pitt and the Office of Sustainability will feature Healthy Lifestyle Institute affiliated faculty member, Dr. Sally Sherman.

April 22: Webinar: Recycling & Waste Reduction

At 2pm EST join PRC online to learn how recycling rules have changed, re-learn how to properly recycle and learn new ways to reduce, reuse and recycle in the comfort of your home.

April 22: Integrative Geopolitics: Climate Resilience in a Post-COVID World

At 4:30pm EST join the Joseph Robertson, Global Strategy Director for the Citizens’ Climate Education, to examine the connection between sustainability and COVID-19.

April 22-26: March for Science Media Zone

In the spirit of the first Earth Day teach-ins, March for Science will convene a virtual international civic forum with curated panels and interactive participation.

April 23: Consulting for Climate Change

At 12pm EST examine the role and impact of environmental consulting with speakers from Independent Power Systems, Arup, and a Graduate Student of Energy Systems from UC – Davis.

April 23: Rooting for Global Food Security

At 3pm EST join a panel to rethink how we grow, share, and consume our food, and discuss local and global food security with speakers from Florida Impact, the United States Patent & Trademark Office, Cardinal Cupboard Food Pantry, and Grounded Upcycling.

April 24-27: City Nature Challenge

Embark on a virtual collaboration with cities around the world to document biodiversity where we live. Join the #CityNatureChallenge on April 24-27.  All you need is a camera and the free iNaturalist app. Observe and upload images of nature right outside your door. Help support the University of Pittsburgh’s Tree Advisory Committee in our endeavor to achieve the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Campus USA certification by identifying trees in your area! #PittSustainability

April 24: CSB “Sustaining Sustainability” Podcast

At 11am EST, check out the next episode of the Center for Sustainable Business’s new podcast series uncovering lessons in sustainability from the COVID-19 pandemic. In this episode, CSB Director CB Bhattacharya interviews Francesco Starace, CEO of Enel, about the importance of renewable energy systems in the wake of the global crisis.

April 24: Boots on the Ground: Turning Your Passion into Action

At 12pm EST join a conversation with activist, influencer, and backpacking queen, Pattie Gonia, and discover how she turned her love for the “Mother Natch” into becoming a household name for outdoor activism and inclusion.


Interested in figuring out how your food choices impact the planet?   Use one of these foodprint calculators! 

Have you ever wondered exactly how much carbon dioxide that tree right outside your window sequesters each year? Find out using this tree calculator tool!

Watch this music video for a list of ideas on how you can celebrate Earth Day. This song was originally written by Woodstock performer Melanie Safka and released in 1970. Pittsburgh musicians came together to create this new version in celebration of the 50th year anniversary of Earth Day.

Free environmental entertainment:

  •  290 issues of Environmental Action Magazine have been digitalized by the University Library System (ULS) and are now available to read. This magazine was created by Environmental Action, Inc. who was instrumental in establishing the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970.  They were known for their pioneering work to pass clean air and water laws, reform electric utilities, oppose the construction of new urban highways, stop the production of supersonic aircraft, battle solid waste and the introduction of throwaway bottles and cans, ban toxic chemicals, and promote “right-to-know” legislation covering the production, use and disposal of dangerous substances. The organization was also known for reaching out to labor unions to find common ground on policies that would both protect the environment and create jobs.
  • Experience these performing art pieces for the earth.
  • Enjoy these fine art pieces for the earth.
  • Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival is allowing you to stream over 100 environmental movies to your living room.
  •  Watch films from the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital which is the largest annually occurring environmental film festival in the world.
  •  Check out these virtual tours and activities for the whole family curated by Pittsburgh Earth Day