5 people share what it meant to grow up with Earth Day

Since the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, millions around the world, angry and frustrated with the pace of change from government and corporate leaders, have used Earth Day as the launching pad to make their voices heard, and to enact meaningful changes in their communities, their countries and their world. This year, we asked our network to share their first memory of Earth Day, and we received an outpouring of messages.

Here are five stories from people who first experienced Earth Day as a child, many of whom went on to become environmental leaders. The following stories were edited to fit EARTHDAY.ORG’s style guidelines.

Person picking up litter out of a stream
Person picking up litter out of a stream.

A bridge over polluted waters

I can trace back my roots to when I became an environmentalist, and it was the year that the EPA was founded. In 1970, I was a fifth grade student in Sister Maureen’s class at St. Joseph’s School in Tucson, Arizona. Our class won a nationwide contest sponsored by Scholastic to raise environmental awareness. We wrote letters to officials, and I remember changing the words in Simon and Garfunkel’s hit, “A Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” to “A Bridge Over Polluted Waters.” Yes, it was before copyright infringement regulations and Weird Al Yankovic, but we were devastated at the time by images of rivers on fire, along with dead fish and birds on shorelines. What we were seeing at the time was not something we wanted to accept as normal, and we wanted to see change.

A very hungry litter caterpillar

My first Earth Day was 12 years ago when I was in first grade. The first grade classes collected recyclable items from their homes for about a month and a half. All the first graders constructed a huge caterpillar out of plastic, cardboard and other items that would have been discarded. It was a lot of fun to put it together with fellow classmates. I remember we even made some flowers and leaves out of the recycled materials. It was so big the news even came to our school! I’m now in my freshman year of college and I’m majoring in Environmental Science. I look forward to Earth Day because it’s an amazing day to advocate for conservation and global climate action.

Walking a mile (or a marathon) for the Earth

My first Earth Day was either in 1972 or 1973, so either the second- or third-ever Earth Day. I remember it fondly. Somehow, as a kid in junior high, I managed to walk a marathon-length course (26 miles) around the Palos Verdes Peninsula. I am a bit astounded to recall it, and am impressed with myself and my friends. If I recall correctly, we each collected donations for every mile we walked and donated those funds to, well, probably the Earth Day foundation. The purpose was to increase environmental awareness. It was also one of my first entries into my life-long passion for taking care of the environment. I proudly claim this story, just as I proudly identify as an environmentalist.

Pressing pause on pollution

My first Earth Day was the first Earth Day (in 1970)! I was 12 at the time and thrilled that taking responsibility for pollution was up to everyone. I got all my classmates to pledge to stop littering and clean up litter where they found it. We didn’t have recycling then for anything except newspapers, but soon recycling cans, then recycling glass started happening. I even talked my parents into getting a trash compactor for the kitchen. (It seemed like a good idea in the 70’s but soon needed to be abandoned as it made it more difficult for trash to break down). From that point on, I became deeply committed to doing all I could to walk gently on the Earth, educate others and do what I could to role model eco-responsibility and care for our non-human kin and ecosystems. I have worked for American Rivers, The Nature Conservancy and HawkWatch International. For the past 29 years I have given voice to the animals so that others can receive their wisdom. As an author, educator and speaker, it is my mission to help human beings become aware of our interconnectedness with all life.

Two children doing homework next to a fence outside
Two children doing homework outside.

Surprise school outside

I had my first Earth Day when I was about eight years old. In my school, we took a bunch of steps to reduce the consumption of electricity and water. At that time I was not that aware of global warming and climate change. When I went to the school, I was in shock that none of the lights of our school were working. When our classes began, our class teacher told us that the fans and air conditioners would not be switched on and that we would be having our classes in the school playground for about a week. I had no clue why it was happening but it was fun to imagine studying outside. We had a lot of fun during that week and we even got to plant new saplings on our campus. From then onwards, I got more conscious about saving electricity and water.


Earth Day serves as a reminder for us to make changes in our communities, as well as to hold leaders accountable for their commitments — or lack thereof — to climate action.

Though we have seen a forceful re-energizing of the movement as we begin to emerge from the COVID era, the urgency of what we need to do, NOW, cannot be overstated. We need everyone! Support Earth Day events happening all year by donating or becoming a member.

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Source: Earth Day Network